How to Beat Travel Insomnia and Sleep Well on Vacation

Travel insomnia is an energy-sapping sleep disorder that many travellers struggle with, which is often worse during menopause. It’s something that I’ve struggled with and I know that I’m not alone.

Are you always jealous of those lucky people who seem to drop off to sleep the moment their head hits the pillow and even more jealous of those who can sleep on flights and when travelling? I know that I am!

According to a Mayan legend, the best way to stop your worries from keeping you awake at night is to tell them to worry dolls, which you then tuck into a cloth pouch under your pillow.

worry dolls

Legend says that the dolls do the worrying for you, so you can get a peaceful night’s sleep. When you awaken, the worries are gone because the dolls took them away during the night.

This article shares specific tips on how to get a good night’s sleep while travelling, gleaned from years of experience with insomnia, both at home and during my travels.

Beating Travel Insomnia

Let’s face it – flights (especially long-haul flights) can be pretty uncomfortable and noisy (unless you’re spending £££s for a premium ticket), and that can make it hard both to fall asleep AND to stay asleep.

There’s usually something to rob you of sleep when flying – someone reading or watching a movie with their light on, a snorer, a man-spreader, a seat kicker, an excited child or a crying baby.

Add that to your own worries about hot flashes and how your restlessness will affect others and – hey presto – you have the perfect recipe for travel insomnia and the dragging grogginess that comes with a lack of sleep.

Sleeping in an unfamiliar room and a different bed can also impact your quality of sleep, especially if you’re struggling to overcome jet lag. But there are things you can do to help make your travel insomnia more bearable.

Here are my top tips gleaned from my travels as a menopausal woman – things I WISH I’d known earlier:

1. Pack the Essentials

These are MUST HAVES for your backpack if you’re already struggling with menopause sleep deprivation.

  • Eye Mask. If you can’t sleep with any lights on, using an eye mask to block out light helps your brain to tell your body that it’s time to sleep!
  • Sleepbuds which don’t stream music or podcasts. Instead, they deliver relaxing and noise-masking sounds to help you fall asleep (and stay asleep) all night. Highly recommended – probably the best sleep aid for travel you can buy!
  • A Wrap: After a hot flash, it’s easy to get chilled. A supersoft wrap will be comforting when you feel the chills
  • Wipes: For a quick freshen up
  • A change of clothes: In case you wake up drenched
  • A Mini Fan – USB rechargeable ones are the best option.

2. Eat Well to Sleep Well

If you’re not getting enough sleep, the shine comes off your trip pretty fast, but you can prepare your body for slumber. And it all starts with what you eat:

  • Try to avoid sugar, carbs and processed foods
  • Look out for foods that are high in magnesium and potassium as these nutrients can help to relax your body before bed.
  • Pack a banana in your hand luggage and eat it before you want to sleep

Discover other foods to look out for at your destination, that are high in magnesium and potassium here.

A relaxing cup of herbal tea before bed can help too. Passionflower, valerian root, or chamomile tea can help relax your body and prepare for sleep.

Pop a couple of herbal tea bags in your hand luggage and switch them for the ghastly builder’s brew airlines provide!

3. Get a Medical Check-Up

Some women swear by melatonin as a very useful travel insomnia treatment; however, there are known side effects to its use – especially over a prolonged period.

Check with your doctor whether melatonin is suitable for your menopause sleep problems BEFORE taking this medication.

use melatonin to combat travel insomnia

If you’re planning to pack a magnesium supplement (or any other medications), don’t forget to check with the foreign embassy of the country you plan to visit, to make sure the supplement is permitted in that country.

4. Hydrate

Drinking plenty of water is super important – especially when you’re travelling. Water helps you to digest your food, regulate your body temperature, keep your brain sharp and flush out bugs or toxins.

Keeping well hydrated throughout the day and drinking a large glass of water before bed will help you get the best sleep.

Many airports now have water fountains for you to fill your reusable water bottle, so you can avoid purchasing single-use plastic bottles.

5. Watch What You Drink

Caffeinated drinks and alcohol are things to drink in moderation, especially when you’re away from home, as they can both lead to restless nights.

Alcohol is also a diuretic, so you can get dehydrated if you don’t drink plenty of water along with your tipple of choice – especially if you’re somewhere very warm or when flying.

6. Get Moving

Fitting exercise into your schedule before you travel will pay dividends in the quality of your sleep. Try to manage 20 to 30 minutes of moderate activity – even if it’s a good walk around the airport rather than sitting as you wait for your flight, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator!

7. Prepare Your Mind for Sleep

If you find it hard to switch off at night as thoughts race through your mind and keep you awake – even when you’re desperate for sleep – the stress of travel can make this worse.

Journalling
Writing a travel journal. Image credit: MarekPhotoDesign.com

Journaling is a therapeutic way to let all your thoughts out before bed – and a great way to capture your travel memories.

Breathing exercises are one of the easiest ways to slow down brainwaves and prepare your body for a restful sleep. No one needs to know what you’re doing, so you can work on your travel insomnia from your airline seat! Here’s what you need to do:

  • Close your eyes
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs completely
  • Think of something you’re grateful for
  • Hold for a count of 10
  • Exhale through your mouth
  • Repeat 5 more times

Meditating is another way to relax your body and achieve calmness of the mind. You might find the guided meditations in the HeadSpace app (around $12/month) useful.

8. Switch Off The Electronics and Blue Light


Artificial light can disturb your body’s natural sleep cycle. If your eyes are exposed to too much blue light – from your phone – your body can be tricked into thinking that it’s not time to sleep yet, according to The National Sleep Foundation.

Switch your phone and electronics off a few hours before bed, pop your sleep mask on, and snuggle down into a travel sleep pillow to help prevent travel insomnia.

Top Tip: Check whether your phone has a “Night Shift” setting and put your phone in your bag or on your nightstand, rather than under your pillow.

9. Get Ice

If you feel uncomfortably hot on a flight, ask an attendant for some ice wrapped in a towel to place on your forehead or pulse points – it’s a great way to cool down quickly and get comfortable.

10. Check The Room Temperature

The Sleep Foundation says that sleeping in a cool room is one of the most important factors for a good night’s sleep, and suggests an ideal room temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius).

Tip: If your accommodation has air conditioning, set the temperature when you arrive, so your room is cool when you are ready to sleep.

11. Drink Milk and Honey

It might feel a bit like reverting to childhood, but drinking a cup of warm milk or a milk substitute with a sprinkle of nutmeg and a spoon of honey works wonders for sleep deprivation.

If you don’t like milk, try a spoonful of raw honey before bedtime instead, as honey naturally alters the serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain and can send you off to a peaceful sleep.

12. Read a Book

woman trying to beat travel insomnia by reading before bed
Image credit: Adobe

As a lifelong bookworm, this is my go-to remedy for travel insomnia as it’s well-known that reading can help to reduce stress.

Pick a good book (a physical book not an e-reader) and set a target for how much you’ll read – perhaps a chapter or two – so you don’t get engrossed and spend all night reading!

13. Essential Oils

Vetiver, lavender and chamomile are the perfect essential oils to spray on your pillow or dab onto your temples and the back of your neck to help you combat travel insomnia.

14. White Noise

Listening to sleep music at night or white noise is a great way to help you drift off to sleep. It might take a few days to get used to but then WOW – you’ll sleep like a baby!

Pop those awesome little Sleepbuds in and choose what you want to listen to – there’s so much choice to help you clear your mind – and not lie awake for hours.

15. Audible Books

I’m a huge fan of Audible books, as they are so accessible on my phone. If you’re struggling with how to sleep on vacation, you may find it relaxing to listen to an old favourite book, read by someone with a soothing voice.

Dial the volume down low and gently drift off. I put a timer on for an hour, but never hear it for that long!

New to Audible books? You can get a FREE 30-day trial here.

16. Get Outside

Head outside every morning because sunlight has a big influence on your circadian rhythm – the internal clock in your brain that tells your body when to sleep and when to wake up. It’s the best way to cast off that morning grogginess.

17. Plan Rest Periods

Sometimes, the best way to have an enjoyable trip, especially during menopause, is to recognise that you may need to rest. A “full-on” schedule might not be the best solution if you’re plagued by travel insomnia.

  • If you’re an early-rising “lark“, consider making the most of your mornings, eating out at lunchtime, and having a leisurely soak in the bath before bed in the evening.
  • A nap or siesta during the day might work for you.
  • If you’re a late-starting “owl“, rest in the morning and opt for tours or trips with a later start instead.
  • On a longer trip, you may also want to plan in a couple of slower days or leisurely foodie experiences.
  • If you’re travelling solo, a private guide might be a great option for you, allowing you to create your own schedule.

Tip: If I’m going on a group tour, I build in a day before the tour so I can refresh, rehydrate and relax before I start the tour.

Last Words

When I first started to suffer from menopause sleep problems, I searched high and low for tips on how to sleep on vacation. I hope you find these 17 ideas for how to deal with travel insomnia helpful and that you can use them to have a fabulous trip!

If you’re a menopausal woman planning a trip, you might find these posts useful too:

Pin these tips on how to sleep on vacation for later!

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Coralie Thornton

Coralie is an over 50s travel writer based in Yorkshire in the UK who writes engaging travel tips, destination guides, and detailed itineraries about the UK, Europe and beyond to inspire boomer travel. When she's not travelling, she's either planning a new trip, exploring locally in the UK, visiting castles and cathedrals, or finding somewhere new to enjoy afternoon tea.

10 thoughts on “How to Beat Travel Insomnia and Sleep Well on Vacation”

  1. These are all great suggestions! I should know, I’ve tried them all! With me being post-menopause my sleep, or lack of it, is the worst side effect. But I do know, eye masks, essential oils, warm milk with honey, screen time, and reading all do help. Travelling with ear plugs, eye mask, and scarf are all great ways to sleep on the plane.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for the endorsement Renee! Menopause is such a drag – I’m glad to hear that you have found (some) relief. I’m totally with you on the ear plugs + eye mask + scarf for the plane 🙂

      Reply
  2. Sleeping while traveling is certainly an important element of any good trip. I find that for myself, the white noise component is essential. I use the same app at home as I do while traveling and it provides me some sense of familiarity even in a strange place. I also find that if you can get used to a white noise that has some variation, it helps block out other sudden noises like neighbors coming home and talking loudly in the middle of the night. Great list!

    Reply
  3. I have insomnia even when not travelling and you have provided some great tips here! I have just recently begun to drink a cup of peppermint tea before bed and I’ve found that relaxes me A LOT! I’ll have to remember to pack a bunch next time I travel as well.

    Reply

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