Personal Health

Sleep Better When Traveling

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When someone is traveling for business, fatigue is often an (unwelcome) companion due to long flights, rushed schedules and time-zone jet lag. Rest quality can also take a hit when someone is sleeping away from home simply due to uncomfortable or unfamiliar surroundings.

To top it off, being tired is typically not the best mode for important meetings and presentations since sleep deprivation impairs mental functioning, attention and stress-management skills.

Both worldly and occasional travelers can benefit from learning about ways to minimize jet lag, tweaking an environment for better sleep and how to stay well rested when flying or driving to make business trips a little easier.

Related: The Surest Path to Success? Get Some Sleep.

Minimizing jet lag.

Jet lag results when a person has trouble adjusting to rapid changes in daily light and darkness cycles. Essentially, the suprachiasmatic nuclei in the hypothalamus govern the internal 24-hour rhythm of sleep and wakefulness and rely heavily on light to do so.

Changes in time zones of couple of hours or more resulting from traveling either west or east can lead to jet lag, but the symptoms are more noticeable when traveling east. For those flying north to south and not changing time zones, jet lag is not likely but fatigue is definitely possible.

In a 2007 Lancet article, researchers suggested that when traveling east and changing time zones by three hours, avoid light from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the new location and seek light from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. For each additional time zone visited, bump the hours of light avoidance and light seeking forward by one-hour increments (for as much as nine hours). Avoiding light may be tricky for a traveler who arrives during the day, though. Researchers suggest wearing dark glasses or staying in a dim hotel room.

The researchers also suggested that when flying west and changing time zones by three hours, avoid light from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. and seek light from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. If the destination is only a few hours of a time-zone shift east or west, gradually change sleep-wake and mealtimes a week before the trip to be in sync with the new locale and minimize disturbances.

Other jet-lag studies have focused on hormones, food and other biological factors thought to play a role. Here are few additional methods recommended by researchers to help beat jet lag.

Be sure to get at least four hours of sleep at home (sometimes called anchor sleep), according to tips published by the World Health Organization. Take naps if necessary. If the visit is less for than three days, try to stay on normal home sleep-wake times and coordinate the itinerary to match.

If possible, have at least one day to get settled and adjust before participating in any important events.

A study of mice detected that fasting might help relieve jet-lag symptoms, according to the Harvard Business Review site. Some researchers have suggested people could fast a couple of hours before and during a long flight and then eat at the closest local mealtime after arrival.

A recent Japanese study of mice suggested eating protein-rich morning meals and carbohydrate-heavy evening meals might be worthy of further investigation.

Related: Surprising Tricks: How to Sleep on a Plane

Sleeping easier away from home.

A person's ability to become comfortable in temporary accommodations is a major factor in quality slumber for many people.

Temperature, light and sound represent the main environmental factors in play, according to a post by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. A room should be cool (ideally chillier than 70 degrees Fahrenheit), the windows should have shades that can block out light and sound should be minimal.

I think a good eye mask can overcome light issues, while a traveling sound conditioner, ambient-noise phone apps and earplugs can help tame a noisy hotel. Some travelers also suggest requesting corner rooms and rooms away from elevators and busy corridors for quieter evenings.

I also recommend bringing along a favorite pillow or reminder of home such as a favorite scent or candle to help make the surroundings more relaxing and familiar.

Staying well-rested during air travel.

Smart flying techniques can help a traveler avoid fatigue on short or long flights. An hour's nap can give a quick boost, according to research from the University of California at Berkeley. But it may be counterproductive to sleep several hours unless it's nighttime in the new destination.

I would suggest that when longer sleep makes sense, try to select a comfortable airplane seat that provides enough space to stretch out. Pack earplugs or headphones and an eye mask in carry-on bags to avoid disturbances. Set a quiet phone alarm to ring 30 minutes ahead of landing to avoid feeling disoriented or groggy when exiting the plane.

Staying hydrated when flying is also very important. Fatigue, weariness and headache can result from flight-induced dehydration, according to the Flight Safety Foundation. Drink plenty of water on the days before traveling and while on the plane. Avoid consuming coffee, tea and alcohol, which contribute to dehydration.

Skirting sleepiness on the road.

Traveling by car presents a few additional considerations when it comes to sleep -- namely safety.

Pay attention to fatigue and drowsiness on road trips although sleeping is probably not an option unless a partner drives.

For long trips, avoid lengthy periods of driving at night, especially during normal sleep times. Drowsy driving is major factor in tens of thousands of accidents each year and would surely put a dent in travel plans.

When traveling on the road, be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before, take regular breaks to stretch and have a snack and be familiar with the warning signs of drowsy driving, cited by the National Sleep Foundation. Plan to stop overnight when driving long distances for safer driving and to avoid the side effects of sleep deprivation the next day.

Do you have any other travel tips to sleep better when traveling?

Related: 10 Ways to Recharge