How to Get Your Best Sleep on the Go

Anyone who’s ever tossed and turned with jet lag knows about the challenges of sleep. We spoke to two Canadian sleep experts who don’t pull any punches when it comes to lifestyle advice. Here are seven useful tips to enjoy great shut-eye.

Lower the thermostat

One of the essential factors for a good night’s sleep is temperature. “The temperature in our everyday environments tends to be constant,” says Dr. Luc Beaudoin. “But we’re biologically designed to prefer cooler temperatures at night.” When you get to your hotel room, make sure the thermostat is set to a steady level (around 18.5°C) rather than on an automatic setting that constantly switches the system on and off, which might wake you up.

Quit coffee

The world runs on caffeine – and that may be why sleep issues are so rampant. “Caffeine has a half-life that varies from five to seven hours,” explains Dr. Beaudoin. “If you’re drinking four cups every day, it means that by bedtime you’ve still got two cups of coffee in your system.” To improve the quality, quantity and efficiency of your sleep, try scaling back on caffeine consumption a couple of weeks before your trip to wean yourself off.

Curb your drinking

Dr. Charles Samuels has worked with professional athletes whose job requires them to be at their peak immediately upon landing. He recommends using your time in the air to rest and recover, instead of working and consuming alcohol. “Alcohol is extremely dehydrating, and hydration is absolutely critical while flying,” he says. “Staying hydrated improves sleep, and improved sleep leads to better recovery and performance.”

Meditate – or at least Zen out

“People shouldn’t focus so much on the amount of sleep they get, but rather on achieving proper recovery through both sleep and rest,” says Dr. Samuels. “I believe in the benefits of meditation, which is why I suggest taking advantage of airport pods to rest for 30 minutes.” Dr. Beaudoin agrees: “Exercise and activity is great during the day, but not in the evening. Plan your next day right before or after dinner to give yourself time to Zen out in the evening.”

Keep it silent

For the white-noise fans among us, there’s bad news: “White noise is better than sporadic noise, but it turns out that any kind of noise impacts sleep quality,” says Dr. Beaudoin. “A study on rats has shown that white noise has an effect on learning abilities the next day.” While you’re asleep, the brain is constantly scanning the environment for potential threats, and noise prevents it from fully resting. Dr. Beaudoin suggests choosing a hotel room away from the elevator, the vending machine or the pool, and wearing earplugs for good measure.

Turn off the tech

Watching TV in bed is a big problem, according to Dr. Beaudoin. But so is your phone. “In my evolutionary theory of sleep, the brain is set up to detect whether there’s a threat nearby,” he says. “Your brain perceives your phone as an active agent because it can issue alerts and you can talk to it.” You can improve your sleep by simply switching your devices to Night Shift mode to diminish their agency.

And whatever you do, don’t count sheep

Dr. Beaudoin became famous for “cognitive shuffle,” an approach to mental imagery that leads the brain to sleep much more effectively than counting sheep. “If you tend to worry, then trying to suppress thoughts is not going to work,” he explains. “Cognitive shuffle is an engaging form of distraction, but not one that’s alerting.” Here’s how it works: Start by picturing a chair. Then a pink balloon. Then a fried egg. And so on. This shuffle tactic emulates some of the key processes that your mind naturally engages in when you’re falling asleep. For more tips, check out Dr. Beaudoin’s free app.

Dr. Luc Beaudoin is a British Columbia sleep expert and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Charles Samuels is the medical director of the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary, Alberta.