Last week was about having guests in your home. So, this week I wanted to talk about traveling sleep tips. For some people, traveling doesn’t affect your sleep. But for others, it makes it almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep. We all know you can’t really bring your bed with you when you travel. If sleeping in a hotel or guest room is not a pleasant experience, those few nights away from home can seem like an eternity. But there are some tips you can try to help make the experience a little less taxing.
First of all, bring your pillow (if you like your pillow). I know it seems simple, but a small thing from home, like your pillow, can help calm that little voice in your head that screams “this isn’t my bed”. The pillow you use at home is a sense of familiarity — you already know it supports your head and neck. Don’t be alarmed if it feels different on a different mattress. Sometimes the surface under your pillow can affect the feel of your pillow. There is also the ever-dreaded sanitary issue that no one likes to think about. If you are staying in a hotel, there have probably been hundreds of people laying their heads (and God knows what else) on that pillow. So, before you put your face on a mystery pillow, simply put your pillow in a small suitcase or bag and take it with you. If you purchased a nice premium pillow, like the ones we carry at Pike's Mattress, it probably came with a fancy zipper carrying case. Those work perfectly! If carrying one more thing is inconvenient, then put your pillow in a trash bag and squeeze some of the air out. I like to leave the bag opened and start on the sealed end. Then roll the pillow (while inside the bag) like a swiss roll. Then use some tape to tape around it or some string to tie around it like a sleeping bag. This makes your pillow much more travel friendly. Speaking of travel pillows, you can also check with the store you purchased your pillow from. Chances are good that there may be a travel size pillow similar to your pillow. Our current line of pillows here at Pike’s Mattress has a small selection of travel-size pillows that are perfect for traveling in a car or plane, and they fit in a suitcase much easier.
Secondly, for those of us that now can’t get past the idea of someone else sleeping on the bed in the hotel or guest room, there are other things you can do. I personally like mattress protectors. I recommend trying one at home before you pick one to travel with. It may sound silly to those of you that don’t get mental images of someone else sleeping in the bed that you are about to climb into, but for those of us that get those mental barriers, I’ll pause here to give you a moment to get the yuck out of your head. Okay, so now that we have established that we don’t want to sleep on the same surface as a previous occupant, you can make it easier by taking your own mattress protector (and even linens if you want). Trust me, you won’t be the first and you won’t be the last to bring your own linens to a hotel. We carry a nice assortment of mattress pads, protectors, and encasements (many of which are water and bedbug proof.)
Most people would be shocked to hear that hotels don’t change ALL the linens when they clean a room. Normally they change the pillowcases and the sheets. But they don’t touch the mattress pad, blanket, or duvet/comforter. I worked in a hotel once (a nicer one too) and the ladies in housekeeping told me they were told to only wash the comforters twice a year at the absolute most. Again, I’ll pause to give you a moment to cringe. So, if you want to bring your own mattress protector and sheets and your spouse looks at you like you have gone crazy, tell them to call and talk to the hotel maid service about how often they launder the blankets. I bet you won’t look so crazy after that phone call. We also carry a beautiful selection of sheets here at Pike’s.
Let’s not lose focus here. We are talking about helping you sleep better while traveling. I’m not just talking about hotels — I am also talking about car rides, bus rides, and plane rides. We are talking about more than just a strange mattress. We are talking about the fatigue you put on your body from traveling. So, while you are traveling, try to eat a little healthier food, take breaks, and stretch. You should do these things anyway, but your body needs them even more while traveling. Your mind does too. Most importantly, you should regularly hydrate. So many people don’t drink enough water (myself included). Being dehydrated can make sleep impossible. Don’t get me wrong, you will be sleepy but the sleep itself can be majorly interrupted by dehydration. I know that means more pitstops on the already long drive, but your body will thank you for it. And some light stretching at every pitstop or break helps too. It doesn’t have to be jumping jacks or something crazy, just light stretching up and to each side. I will post more on bedtime stretches later.
Fourth, let's talk about sounds. Yes, sounds can play a huge role in your sleep and you don’t even know it. Mothers have been humming and singing their wee ones to sleep for centuries. That humming of the ceiling fan in your bedroom, or that buzzing streetlight that used to drive you crazy, or the dog snoring, all these little things can affect your sleep. While they may have started out bothering you, your brain has learned to associate these sounds as “Sleep Noise." Once your brain has programmed these sleep noises, when the sounds are missing, the silence can be deafening. There are a few things you can try. First, try recording the sounds. Unfortunately, most cell phones have background filters to filter out these noises. So, if you don’t have any luck, try adding a sound. This takes a bit more planning, but it helps a lot of people. You will want to start a few weeks before your planned trip. Get one of those sound machines or download one of those sleep sound apps. Find a sound that you find relaxing, and if it helps, stick with that sound. Play it every night to “train” your brain to associate that sound with sleep. This way you can take part of your “Sleep Noise” with you on the road. You may not have the dog snoring, but every little bit helps.
Fifthly, let's talk smells. I know people are all thinking I’m crazy here, but your sense of smell is one of the most intense faculties you have. How many times have you smelled something that triggered a childhood memory? For me, the most memorable scent memory trigger was mulberry. When I was in college, I was candle shopping for a scented candle to get rid of the dorm room smell. We couldn’t burn the candles, but we could use candle warmers (I cheated and used my coffee maker because I wasn’t spending all that money on a hot plate when my coffee maker had one built-in). I was shopping for candles and my roommate put a mulberry candle under my nose and in that very instant I was 8 years old again playing hide-n-seek at my cousins’ house after dark on a warm summer night. The neighbor had several large mulberry bushes around their house. My brain had stored all that information and the scent of Mulberry brought it all back in a flash. I hadn’t thought about that in years, but that scent triggered a lot of happy memories. Of course, I bought that candle, and to this day every time I smell mulberry, I think of that summer. Scents can be very powerful. The smell of your loved one’s dirty gym socks may not be pleasant, but it is familiar. When you are struggling to sleep, any familiarity can help. I am not saying you should carry around stinky gym socks, but if you are away from your loved one, perhaps something that smells like them will help. A pillowcase, an old tee-shirt, or something that makes them feel closer.
You can also prepare your “Sleep Scent” like you do your “Sleep Noise”. Spray a gentle pillow spray under and on your pillow every night before bed to train your brain to associate that scent with sleep. By the way, Pike’s Mattress will be introducing a line of aromatherapy pillow sprays and sleep scents in the coming months. We are still testing scents from dozens of suppliers to find just the right scent line. We also have three scents that are currently available in our aromatherapy infused pillows: lavender, chamomile, and peppermint. We even offer matching pillow sprays to help refreshen the scent profile of the pillows.
Sixth, we need to talk about lighting. I know you don’t always have the choice of the setting of a room. If you sleep with a nightlight, then take a night light. A lot of people frequently get up and down at night or feel uncomfortable in a dark bedroom. On the opposite end of the spectrum, for those of us that prefer to sleep in a pitch-black room, we always seem to get stuck in a hotel room next to a window with a streetlamp. If you are staying in a hotel room and the lighting is a problem, the answer may seem too simple that you feel silly for not thinking of it: ask the front desk if you can change rooms. Or better yet, when calling to make reservations, ask for a room with appropriate lighting for your sleep habits. Most hotels are more than happy to accommodate this request. If you prefer a dark room to sleep in but have difficulty, try to train yourself to sleep with a sleep mask for a few weeks before you travel. That way, if it is too bright, you can slip your mask on and turn out the lights.
Another thing to consider; while you can’t pack your mattress in a suitcase, you can sometimes pack a topper. As simple as it sounds, a mattress pad or topper that you know you like can be rolled up and packed into a suitcase. If you will be staying for a while, you can even ship the topper to the hotel or family member’s house ahead of time. But be courteous and ask your host or hotel before you do.
While we are on the subject, one final word of advice — just because you may not be sleeping well doesn’t mean you have to make everyone else’s night miserable. I know it’s a little bold of me to say but have some compassion. We all get tired and cranky when traveling, so don’t take it out on your loved ones or on some unsuspected stranger at the front desk at the hotel. No one knows your exact sleep needs and routine but you. So, don’t be angry when someone doesn’t get it right. If you want to sleep well when traveling, then prepare yourself ahead of time. You can’t control every aspect of the environment around you, but you can control some things. Create a sleep routine. Stick to it. Incorporate things in your routine that you can take with you while you travel. This will make your travels so much more pleasant.
I hope you travel safely and sleep well, my friend.