Mastering the Art of the Travel Power Nap

… This is a Guest Post by Sara Westgreen from the sleep science hub Tuck Sleep …

Traveling can be exhausting. Jet lag, early flights, shuffling children, sleeping on unfamiliar mattresses, and changing time zones can make any traveler tired. Even if you’re just taking a short flight or car trip, the hustle and bustle of getting from point A to point B (and maybe even C, D, and E) can take it out of you.

But there’s an easy solution: power naps. Brief and maybe even spontaneous, naps offer a way to refresh and recharge, even if you just have a short time to rest while you’re on the go.

Why You Should Nap When You’re Traveling

Travel causes a variety of issues with sleep. When you’re traveling, you tend to experience sleep debt, stress, and even sickness, all of which can interfere with sleep and feeling well rested.

Naps, on the other hand, can offer a variety of benefits for your health, improving memory and performance. With a power nap, typically less than 20 minutes, you can get recharged without the grogginess you might experience if you sleep for a longer period of time.

Naps can be restorative, especially if you’re suffering from or preparing for sleep loss. Planning a power nap when you know you’ll be short on sleep, energy, or both can raise your performance while reducing your risk of sleepiness. Just 20 minutes of snoozing can help keep you at the top of your game, whether you need to stay sharp for business travel or just want to be alert when you reach your destination.

A power nap can make travel better, as it did for me here in Moana Surfrider, Waikiki

How to Power Nap When You’re Traveling

It doesn’t take long to get a quick nap in and feel refreshed. You can snooze while riding on a plane, train, or taxi. Use these tips to plan ahead and make the most of your nap time while you’re traveling.

  • Just rest with no pressure: You may be feeling stressed while traveling, and stressing about squeezing in a nap is no way to feel better. In fact, if you’re worried about pushing yourself to fall asleep, you may actually keep yourself awake. Don’t worry about it. Simply stop to rest, put away all distractions (especially your phone or tablet), and take a break to meditate. If you get a quick nap, great. If not, you’ve still taken some time to rest and relax, which can improve well being.

  • Set an alarm: Regular nappers often don’t set an alarm. In fact, they typically train their brains to wake up after a short period of time. But when you’re traveling, your sleep schedule is thrown off and you run the risk of sleeping too long if you’re not careful. Set your alarm for 30 minutes, giving yourself 10 minutes to doze off and 15-20 minutes to nap.

  • Don’t nap too long: If you nap longer than 30 minutes, you may wake up feeling groggy and more tired than you felt before your nap. This is due to sleep inertia. If you enter slow-wave sleep, it will be more difficult to wake up.

  • Sleep on planes: If you’re able to snooze sitting up, catching a nap while on planes is a good strategy. The plane’s white noise can quickly lull you to sleep, helping you get a solid nap even if you’re on a short flight. Try to board early so you can ask for a blanket and pillow before they’re all gone. Better yet, bring your own neck pillow.

    Why a power nap on a plane is a great idea when you travel

  • Travel prepared to nap: Some people find it easier to nap than others, snoozing anywhere and at any time. If you need a little help, travel armed with napping supplies. These include a neck pillow, noise cancelling headphones or earplugs, even an eye mask to block out light. Using these and other sleep aids, you can create a better sleep environment for enjoying a travel nap.

  • Put your phone down: While it’s common to use screens to communicate and stay entertained while traveling, the blue light emitted by many screens including phones, computers, and tablets can interfere with sleep, telling your brain it’s time to be alert rather than drowsy. If you want to doze off, read a book or chat with a fellow traveler before trying to nap.

  • Try a caffeine nap: A caffeine nap can recharge your energy in 20 minutes or less. To take a caffeine nap, you drink a cup of coffee, then immediately take a nap 15 to 20 minutes long. This quick rest combined with a cup of coffee can make you significantly more alert. But the key is that you must sleep right away after you drink coffee and nap only for a short period of time, ideally 15 minutes.

  • Help kids nap, too: If you’re traveling with kids, your hopes for a nap may be dashed. But if you make it easy for them to nap at the same time, it is possible. You can nap as a family while traveling on a plane or in a car (while the driver stays awake, of course). Use familiar car seats, blankets, and anything else that can make your child’s travel environment feel like home. If possible, plan your travel around your child’s typical nap time so they’ll be more likely to take their nap (and give you a chance to nap, too).

  • Be careful not to nap too close to bedtime: While restorative and helpful, naps can cause problems with sleeping at night if you’re not careful. If you nap less than three hours before bed, it may interfere with your ability to get to sleep at night. If you’re feeling tired in the three hours before your normal bedtime, it’s better to not nap and just go to bed a little earlier than usual to get extra rest.

  • Get proper sleep at home and your destination: While power naps are a great tool for feeling refreshed and even catching up on sleep when you’re particularly fatigued, they are no replacement for a full night of sleep. You can’t run on naps for days on end. Make getting a good night’s sleep a priority while you’re traveling, leaving enough time in your schedule for rest at night and practicing good sleep hygiene while you’re on the go.

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck Sleep. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.​

Fancy some more sleepy tips? Check out this post on five tips for sleeping well in hotels and find out why I’m a fan of changing into pyjamas on long haul flights.  

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