Travelling on planes, whether it’s for business or pleasure, has a nasty dark side that can eat into precious work or play time. What is this dark side? Lack of sleep, disrupted sleep and of course the resulting jet lag.
Cramped up in an aeroplane seat, or even trying to sleep in a hotel room when your body is still on another time zone, sleep – or lack thereof – can make or break the first few days of a trip. Many people resort to sleeping pills, but not only are these potentially dangerous they can often leave you feeling tired and groggy afterwards anyway.
Does poor sleep on planes and jetlag always have to be the case? My answer is no. In fact, I’m going to share with you 12 tips to help you sleep while travelling on planes (and hopefully lessen the chances of jetlag!)
These are the exact tips that I use myself and use with my frequent flying executive clients.
The below natural sleep recommendations are great for use if trying to sleep on a plane, but they can also be applied for sleeping once you arrive in your destination (see bonus section at the bottom).
In regards to best ways to adapt for cross time zone travel, that is beyond the scope of this article but my two personal strategies are 1) Adjust your time to your destination time as soon as you get on the plane and 2) Any sleep is better than no sleep – even if at the wrong time!
Sleeping pills and international travel go hand in hand. Personally I’m terrified of popping a drug while 30’000 feet in the air over foreign land. The natural approach seems more logical to me anyway! So what do I use & recommend:
I don’t recommend long term use of melatonin and I don’t see any reason why average Joe should rely on melatonin for sleep in general day to day use. But travelling is different, it’s hard to adhere to natural light and temperature cycles, let alone natural sleep and wake cycles.
For this reason I supplement with a small amount of time release melatonin when travelling. I recommend only using this when trying to sleep on a plane and perhaps the first few nights at your destination then cutting back.
PS as it is commonly known as will help to lower cortisol levels. This makes it a great supplement for those who are stressed pre bed, but it is also a great travel supplement. Why? Because when cortisol is high, melatonin is low. And in this situation you aren’t going to sleep. This is a big reason why jet lag messes people up so much – messed up circadian rhythms. Take 2 capsules pre bed. I use Natural Factors PS.
This is expensive and not available in all countries – so be careful if travelling with it. However it’s magical stuff if you can get your hands on it. CBD is a phytocannabinoid that is found in industrial hemp and marijuana however CBD does not contain the psychoactive ingredient THC. A number of studies are starting to come out showing CBD's effectiveness in improving ones sleep. It's something you could consider trying as it is a completely natural sleep aid with no known toxic side effects. It also helps with anxiety, another reason why I include it in my travel sleep stack.
NutraSleep by Source Naturals is a combination of herbs, vitamins, minerals and amino acids that are effective at helping one relax and improve their sleep without any grogginess. This is what I refer to as a ‘sleep multivitamin’, even though it’s made up of a bunch of herbs (skullcap, passionflower, valerian root, chamomile flower…) It’s a nice edition to round out my sleep travel stack. However, if you’re pressed on space you could skip this option. Take 2-4 caps.
Phenibut is derived from neurotransmitter Gaba (which is often used as a sleep aid). But the key difference is that phenibut crosses the blood brain barrier. Note ***This is a very powerful, yet scary substance. It is very effective at reducing anxiety, and helping promote restful sleep, but it is highly addictive. *** I never use this more than 2 nights in a row, and only when travelling.
Finally, if you don’t want to be popping pills mid flight, or just prefer a convenient ‘all in one’ natural sleep aid for your travels then you can’t go past Doc Parsely’s Sleep Remedy. These are single serve sachets that you mix with water before sleeping. Designed by an ex Navy Seal Doctor FOR Navy seals that include the raw materials needed for a deep sleep including tryptophan, phenibut (in a small amount), 5-Htp and a small dose of melatonin itself.
You can find out more about this product here. I also have a video where I interviewed the creator of this product on youtube.
Take 1 sachet before sleeping.
Doc Parsely's Sleep Remedy - Designed to help Navy Seals sleep in the field!
Use code alexferguscoaching for a discount!
Hopefully anyone who has read my article - How Technology & Blue Light Is Ruining Sleep & Making You Sick Fat & Tired (And How To Fix It) - understands the importance of light cycles and sleep. If you haven’t I can give you a quick overview – our bodies operate based on external environmental stimuli – light being the most powerful in regards to setting our sleep/wake cycles. Our body expects bright light in the AM and during the day, and low light at night. In fact it’s been shown that blue light (from screens, lightbulbs etc.) into our eye disrupts out melatonin production more than coffee!
So a simple ‘hack’ to help the body wind down for sleep is by wearing bluelightblocking glasses in the hours prior to bed.
Yes that’s right, for optimal sleep you need to wear these super cool glasses while watching that pre bed movie! Maybe that day flight was a better idea?!
Some of my travel sleep 'must haves'. Bluelightblockers, ear plugs, duct tape, eye mask, supplements and a throw!
Ideally your sleep environment would be pitch black. Studies have found that even a small amount of light on the eye (or on the skin for that matter) can disrupt melatonin production! So unless you’re flying on your own jet you probably can’t control the environment of the cabin. For that reason, I recommend wearing a sleep mask.
--- Struggling with sleep? Be sure to sign up to my email list - I'm working on a comprehensive 21 day online course to help you sleep better! Make sure you sign up to hear about the upcoming release! ---
There is nothing worse than being woken up mid sleep by someone coughing or a baby crying. Do whatever you can to minimize variables that could disrupt your sleep. Wear ear plugs. This is a no –brainer.
If you don't sleep well at home, then trying to sleep soundly on a plane or while travelling isn't going to be easy. Therefore I highly recommend fixing your day to day sleep habits. The best way to do this is with the Sound Asleep program that I have created.
Now that you’ve arrived in your Hotel room you can still use the above supplement recommendations and the light hacks I outlined above, but here are 3 other tips that can drastically help you get a good night’s rest when travelling.
I always travel with a roll of black duct tape. Why? Well we know how light disrupts your sleep so I want to do everything possible to reduce light in my sleep environment, and often that means covering blinking LED lights, or cracks in the curtains with black duct tape. Simple.
On the topic of blocking light in your sleep environment, another ‘essential’ travel item of mine is a dark throw. Often I will be in a hotel room with a patch of light that no amount of duct tape will cover, enter the throw! Cover bright lights, block out that small window lacking a curtain, or simply use it for warmth!
I take my sleep very seriously! And one of the best things for optimal sleep is blocking street light!
My final tip for improving sleep naturally when travelling is my handy red LED nightlight. I use these around my apartment back home (they’re great in the bathroom and even as a bedside lamp) and they work wonders when in hotels. The red light does not disrupt melatonin like conventional white/yellow bulbs do. So you can have the lights on without worrying about sleep disturbances.
Pack one or two of these in your suitcase and use them in the hours pre bed. Most hotels I stay in use bright energy efficient bulbs that emit a ton of blue light, this nightlight allows me to wash up, read, pack etc. without the bright light exposure. Just remember to pack a travel adapter!
Finally, now that you have sorted your sleep, you may want to check out my article 15 Tips To Cure Jet Lag Fast to really smash jet lag on it's head!
So there you have it! That’s what I use/do for sleep when I’m travelling. It works wonders for me, how about you? Do you have any rituals, or supplements that you use when travelling?
Please post them below I’d love to hear your suggestions! If you liked this article be sure to sign up to my newsletter to hear about more content like this.
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is an ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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