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Practical Tips for Getting to Sleep When You Travel (From Experienced Travelers)

by Matador Creators Mar 3, 2018

Travel can be rough for light sleepers. Bumpy roads, cramped bus seats, jet engines, and obnoxious passengers are not conducive to a good night’s sleep. And jet lag can make it even worse, especially if you’re traveling particularly far from home. We’re all travelers at Matador, so we asked our staff and the Matador Creators Community for tips on how to get a decent night’s sleep even while you’re on the move.

Get the right pillow.

A good neck pillow makes all the difference, but you have to look around for the right one. Matador Producer Henry Miller suggests getting an inflatable pillow, so as to save on space — also, he adds, you can wash the outer layer if you’re a germaphobe. Since a lot of pillows do take up space, Kyle Lamont, a Matador filmmaker, suggests packing a puffy jacket as it can double as a pillow.

Get the right earbuds.

Over long periods, bad earbuds can start to hurt your ear. Blaze Nowara, a Matador filmmaker, suggests over-the-ear noise canceling headphones, but Matt Hershberger points out that you’ll need to factor in how you sleep: Bulky headphones can make leaning against a plane, train, or bus window awkward. A good neck pillow will give you the space you need.

If you’re in a desperate situation, say, at a Vietnamese farmstay where down the street they’re having a party that is playing “awful high pitch electro tin pan shit” music on repeat, Kyle Lamont suggests to just shove some toilet paper in there.

Imbibe the right substances before bed.

Most agree that caffeine and alcohol are a mistake before bed. Copy Editor Stephanie Edri suggests stopping caffeine after 2:00 PM in the place you’re visiting. She adds that it might be worth trying a single cup of sleepytime tea, but no less than an hour before bedtime (so you don’t wake up having to pee). Deia De Marco says most caffeine-free warm beverages will do, “Even just some warm water before bed will help warm your stomach, and takes metabolic energy away from your brain (which is probably running a mile a minute) and diverts it towards your stomach to help you digest. When I drink chamomile tea I know it’s impossible to stay awake.”

Matadorian Alex Scola suggests a caffeine hack. “Avoid caffeine on your normal body schedule. This is a weird one, but as a caffeine enthusiast nothing screws me up more than getting caffeine when my body expects it, which sets my body up for the regular daily routine. Drink a coffee when you need it, but have it when your body thinks it’s 4:00 AM or 2:00 PM. Doing this en route also helps me flex to a new time zone easier.” Alex also recommends Benadryl for long flights — it’s especially useful if you have allergies.

Henry Miller says that, to avoid jetlag, you should not drink on the plane. “It will dehydrate you and make it harder for you to get to REM sleep.” Travelstoke Manager Dayana Aleksandrova goes a step further: Don’t eat on your flight, even if it’s over six hours. Matador Contributor Eben Diskin, on the other hand, thinks alcohol is a good way to lower your adrenaline a bit on the first night in a new city. “It’ll help facilitate a fun night in a new city, and then knock you out once the night’s over. I find it particularly useful when it comes to jet lag. Traveling overnight from the US to Europe, I always have too much adrenaline to sleep when I arrive. A few drinks make me sleep like a rock, and also helps correct my sleep schedule.”

Matador Editor Matt Hershberger and Deia De Marco both recommend melatonin tablets. “They are a godsend,” Matt says. “I stay up until a reasonable bedtime in the place I’ve just traveled to, take a melatonin pill a half an hour before bed, sleep soundly through the night, and wake up on a normal schedule.”

Henry strongly suggests, as an alternative to alcohol, “CBD edibles, as they relax your muscles (and get you high).”

Hack your sleep schedule.

“If I need to be awake/alert at a weird hour,” Alex Scola says, “the night before doesn’t matter. It’s the night before that night I have to make sure I get enough rest. Sleep deprivation usually only does me dirty in 48-hour cycles.”

Director of Brand Partnerships CJ Close plans for the jetlag before leaving. “When I know I am going to be changing time zones of 5+ hours, I start backing into the new time zone 5 days before I leave the current time zone. I start one hour at a time, going to bed early, then increasing each day.” CJ also recommends walking around in the sunshine when you get to the new destination to get your brain used to the change.

Eben Diskin says, “I’ve found that whenever I’m in a new place, it helps to replicate the sleep environment I’m used to. At home I sleep with a fan by my bed for white noise, so whenever I travel, I either turn on the AC’s fan function, or listen to a white noise app. This can also help drown out disruptive street sounds.” Stephanie Edri agrees, “Do you read before bed? take off your socks? whatever you do at home, do it on the road. Don’t have sleep rituals? Create some.”

Digital Media Editor Carlo Alcos, Head of Branded Content Doree Simon, and Stephanie all suggest eye masks to block out the light on planes and in hotel rooms.

Everyone agrees — stay away from blue light screens, and try to read or journal before bed.


Stephanie Edri, CJ Close, and Deia De Marco all recommended lavender essential oils. “Dabbed onto your pillow or diluted and rubbed into your pulse points to help you relax,” Stephanie says. “It seriously works like a charm,” De Marco added.

Take care of your body.

Doree Simon and Dayana Aleksandrova both recommend meditation before sleeping. Dayana even offered a specific meditation to use:

Several people suggested exercising on your normal schedule, too. “I often notice on days that I have been particularly inactive that I have a much harder time falling asleep,” Deia De Marco says.

Find the right sounds.

“I’ve spent the past 10 years perfecting a sleep playlist,” says Matt Hershberger. “It’s super selective — it still only has 17 songs, and I regularly try new songs only to delete them after a single attempt — but the right mix of Radiohead (“High and Dry” and “Sail to the Moon”), Pink Floyd (“Great Gig in the Sky” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”), My Bloody Valentine (“Sometimes”) and the Stone Roses (“I Wanna Be Adored”) has become surprisingly effective in putting me to sleep in loud plane/train/automobile situations.”

Others suggest white noise machines and apps — Matt uses Noisli when the playlist isn’t doing it, and Creators Community member McKenna Klein suggests Solfreggio frequencies. Kyle Lamont suggests only using earplugs when you really need them — you don’t want to get dependent on them.

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