I used to think traveling for work would be an amazing benefit, collecting miles and points for my personal use later on. While living in San Francisco, I even took a job with a company partially because it boasted offices in 31 cities across 16 countries, and lured me with project collaborations in Paris and Rome.
I never travelled further than Palo Alto.
Eventually, I moved back to New York and was hired by a company that wanted me to travel quite a bit. That was when I learned a hard truth: work travel is nothing like vacation. It’s more like a series of redeyes to minimize hotel expenses, and thus, sleep. I’ve arrived at many meetings and conferences feeling like one of the faceless cast members of the The Walking Dead.
But I’ve also learned that while there’s no substitute for a comfortable bed in a dark, quiet place, there are some tricks and tools that can help you sleep just about anywhere.
1. Pack for Comfort
Remember when all airplanes and all the rows in them had pillows and blankets? Yeah, I’m that old. Those disappeared about the same time as dressing appropriately. Now, it seems like wearing shoes on planes is optional, but temperature control is not.
For most people, a comfortable sleeping temperature is between 54 and 75 degrees. It’s a big range, and typical airplane interiors temperatures, which are between 71 and 74 degrees, fall within that. However, each person is different, and I like a little more warmth for sleeping. So for longer flights, I bring a travel pillow and blanket. I personally prefer pre-filled over inflatable, but for ease of packing, there is the Travel Billow, which combines an inflatable neck pillow with a full-body fleece blanket that can be stored within the pillow.
2. Mask the Sound
I’ve found earplugs can be effective if the plane is fairly quiet, but those little bits of foam are no match for a slammed lavatory door or a screaming baby. So rather than muffle sound, I use white noise to mask it. While it’s not technically “white noise” (see Wikipedia’s explanation), it’s the more generic version, a consistent sound that your ears — and brain — register over more variable sounds, allowing you to sleep better. I have a white noise machine at home to block out the sounds of traffic outside my window. On the road, I turn the hotel’s fan from “auto” to “on” to create the same affect.
When traveling, there are a number of apps you can download for your phone or tablet, like White Noise by TMSoft or Relax and Sleep by Mizu Software (both available for Android and iOS). Just remember that for a long flight, recharge your phone before you go.
3. Mask the Light, Literally
Ever fall asleep in a dim plane only to be awakened by someone turning on a reading light two rows ahead of you? With light, just as with sound, consistency matters. That’s why sleep masks come in handy. The ones airlines may give you for international flights can be effective, but I’ve since followed the example of a travel editor I once worked with and bought my own. Gaiam now carries the souped-up Deluxe Glo to Sleep Mask, which includes LED lights inside the mask to help calm your mind and ease you into sleep.
4. Stay on Schedule
Venturing across time zones wrecks your schedule, especially for sleep. I stopped setting the radio for my alarm once I slept through an entire hour of music because, to my body, 9 a.m. felt like 3.a.m.
One way to get up and get back on schedule is to set your alarm to wake you during a lighter sleep cycle, an optimal time for waking up. As we sleep, our bodies cycle through various stages of light to heavy sleep, each lasting five to 15 minutes. SleepTracker, a sleep monitor you wear like watch, works by detecting arm movement as a sign of a lighter sleep, and wakes during the cycle within a window of time you set. By waking you during an optimal time versus a time of deep sleep, you wake easier, more refreshed, and feel much less like a zombie.
So good luck on your next business trip! We hope you’re able to both please your clients and get the rest you need.