Wynwood Walls Mural

Wynwood Walls Mural, Miami

Sleeping when traveling can be a blissful release or a Pandora’s Box of adjustments, disappointments and punched pillows.

Recognize any of these scenarios?

  • You sleep better when away from the daily grind OR have a hard time nodding off in new places.
  • Hostel or hotel neighbors are too often inconsiderately loud or snore.
  • You carry a favorite travel pillow OR can nod off anywhere.
  • Your furnace or air conditioning may be noisy, blasting or the wrong temp.
  • You run out of whatever sleep aid you use and have a rough night.
  • Your ear plugs or eye mask are forgotten, misplaced or irreplaceable.
  • Jet lag keeps you staring at the ceiling for hours.
  • You over-eat or drink and new foods rankle your tender tummy.
  • Enter your own ordeal_______________________
Sea lions via Trover, Martina Tamaro

If only it were this easy! Harbor Sea lions via Trover, Martina Tamaro

Make the most of it

As a light sleeper, I’ve been through it all and often can’t sleep well. It doesn’t matter where. As soon as I find a way to sleep through the night, it seems that biology or circumstance change things. Getting upset about it doesn’t help. I’ve learned to be easy with it – most of the time.

If I’m too buzzed and find myself wide awake at 2 am, I get up and work. With an early start on tasks, eventually fatigue finds me and the following day goes more smoothly with a head start. Accumulating enough sleep hours usually evens out but it’s taken years of traversing the globe to get an idea of what my options are situation by situation.

Sleeping bag

Comfort where you find it. Photo via Trover, Jason Kenagy

Natural options when you can’t sleep:

Ayurveda: It’s an age old system for health and longevity that recommends following the sun for rest and activity. There are several principles for sleep and while they don’t always jive with our digital lives, working them into your lifestyle may help you sleep better.

  1. Go to bed by 10:00 p.m. and wake up by 6:00 a.m.
  2. Get between six and eight hours of sleep a night
  3. Avoid daytime napping, but if you do nap, sleep no more than 20 minutes.

Yoga: Use breathing techniques from Yoga to help your body to settle, your mind to slow and surrender. Three to five minutes of alternate nostril breathing is very clearing and calming. It can be done in whatever relaxing posture feels best. (See video below.)


I practice a mantra-based meditation daily (Transcendental Meditation.) When I can’t sleep and it’s past 3 am (an important time for Circadian Rhythms,) propping myself up in bed to meditate usually leads to sleeping soundly. Find a meditation that works for you and reduces overall stress.

A recent discovery when I’m lying awake and begin to notice my thoughts starting to race. Stop and silently repeat, “Sleep now. Think later.” It’s a surprisingly simple mantra that helps redirect the mind and eases the body.


There are sound machines that help you sleep to the sound of waves, wind chimes, birdsong, etc. Travel with phone apps and listen when you can’t sleep.

Natural supplements and teas:

Chamomille tea is very restful and soothes the stomach. It’s easy to carry a few teabags.

Melatonin and Verbena are popular sleep aid supplements that enhance the body’s natural hormonal balance. Bring them along in labelled bottles in your carry on.

Magnesium supplements and powders help to reduce stress and increase calm. I also use Brewers Yeast Flakes (Vitamin B12 supplements work too.) Then sip a little Calm Magnesium before bed.

Alternate Nostril Breathing with Ed Harrold

Other tips when you can’t sleep:

  • Set up patterns for bedtime and, without getting too attached to them, work those patterns into your travel.
  • Keep your bed for rest or play, not reading, work, TV or scrolling through the phone. Since I’ve kept to that, as soon as my head hits the pillow my energy begins unwinding.
  • Cell phone strategy – Plug it in a few steps away from the bed. Should you wake up in the middle of the night, it’s easier to resist the temptation of checking your app status or emails when it’s on the other side of the room.
  • Don’t work on your computer or tablet just before bedtime. Give your eyes time to relax. Softer light signals the body to rest / bright light is invigorating.
  • Carry a travel pillow to support your neck and sleep more soundly on airplanes and drives.
  • Exercise is the greatest sleep enhancer but not right before bedtime. Physical exhaustion, not mental fatigue, can help you sleep deeply and long.
  • Don’t eat chocolate, which contains caffeine, before bedtime.
  • Moderate your alcohol. Drink with food, or early in the evening, to help your body metabolize the alcohol before bedtime and avoid waking up in the wee hours.
Tee Pee sleep at Casa Caracol - photo via Trover,

Tee Pee sleep at Casa Caracol – photo via Trover

There really is no one way to always sleep well, especially when traveling through new places and time zones. Staying flexible helps – in body and mind. Variety enhances our lives and perhaps that works for sleeping as well. If you find yourself bound by too many sleep time rules, take a moment to breathe and listen deeply. Perhaps sleep isn’t to be hunted but coaxed. I hope the sleep of babes finds you again.

Ducklings on Green Island by Richard Remington

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