Sleep disruption from frequent travel

Back to Forum

This topic contains 25 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by  RaveAroundTheWorld 9 Oct 2014
at 10:57

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 26 total)

  • Anonymous



    I am researching a piece for Business Traveller magazine on sleep.

    I have written before about jet lag. This piece is more about the long-term effects of sleep disruption.

    Part of this is from jet lag, of course, but research seems to suggest that disrupting sleep patterns with frequent travel can then cause sleep problems on the return home.

    Frequent travellers are therefore at risk of becoming ‘disordered sleepers’, and more likely to suffer from insomnia or frequent waking at night as a result.

    To that end may I ask

    1. What causes sleep disruption when you are away? So in hotels, for instance uncomfortable beds, noisy rooms, too hot / too cold, or perhaps stress of travel etc…

    I’d be interested in any anecdotes about worst night’s sleep… if you feel like telling the story

    2. Does disruption when you’re away lead to disruption on your return? Do you find it difficult to switch off and fall asleep / stay asleep after a trip?

    3. Have you noticed any longer-term effects of poor sleep on your physical and mental wellbeing? Are you more prone to colds for instance? More irritable or less resistant to stress?

    4. Linked to this, does your employer make allowances for the negative effects of frequent travel on both your productivity and general health? Eg are you encouraged to fly business/upgrade hotel rooms to improve your sleep quality? Or is budget still the main criteria?

    I appreciate there’s a lot there, but any contributions would be most welcome.

    Many thanks
    Sally Brown

    Very interesting question Sally.

    For a long time I have been a very poor sleeper and toss and turn even on a good night at home.

    I find flights to North America a major hassle. You arrive on a high and just glad to arrive. When you get to your hotel you discover the air con far too noisy (NY in summer or Chicago in winter). On my first night away one minute I am too hot and the next too cold. And two days later when you are beginning to recuperate it’s time to return.

    I am sure the stress of flying plays a very important role in this.

    On the return, I try to stay up until normal bedtime although it is often difficult. And I recover from a long flight much more quickly when I get back home.

    I have mentioned this before – Vitamin B supplements are a good substitute for sleeping tablets, but I won’t rule out taking the latter next week.

    I am often irritable after a long flight outbound, but when I get home I am just so glad to see my own bed. And yes, I frequently come down with the cold after a trip.


    Hi Alexpo1

    The reason people often come down with Colds after a flight is due to the lack of fluids being taken on a flight. I went to the Millennium Seed bank at Wakehurst place and they were describing how they can only work in the “seed” room for 1 hour at a time for Health and Safety reasons as air humidity was a low 25%. He then went on to say how on a plane it is normally 10-12% so much lower again – and you can be on a plane for hours & hours. The dryness first affects your skin (regular travelers might notice skin issues is flying very regularly) and then the lungs are the next to suffer with dehydration (I’m not a medic – just recounting what he said a long time back). So it is very normal to suffer from a cold after a long flight if you haven’t had a good few litres of water if on a 12 hour flight.

    I would hazard a guess that dehydration from not drinking enough (and airlines are not good at giving out regular drinks) would also have an impact on sleep quality if you then come down with a cold or other illness on top of (or combined with) the effects of Jet-Lag


    After extensive travel recently, mostly overnight in economy and going straight into work, Ive come to realise that the correlation of food intake and sleep is huge. You would never have a meal at home then go to bed straight after and expect to sleep so why do I expect to do so on a plane?

    Where I can, I eat on the ground, have nothing more than a small glass of red on the flight then get my head down. I also have taken to missing breakfast on the plane and squirrelling away a croissant to eat in the immigration line to maximise my sleep time!

    re hotels, I struggle getting the temperature right in rooms so often have disturbed sleep. Although on a recent trip to Nigeria I was so concerned about lorry bombs (my hotel had a warning from the US govt) I took to sleeping in the bath and slept surprisingly well!


    Sleeping problems have affected me for the past 30 years of travel. My solution up until April 2013 was to take sleeping pills, which I fortunately recognised as being a serious problem.

    I kicked the sleeping pills 100%, in April last year, with the help of a client/friend and found like giving up smoking, its was easier to conquer than I had initially thought. Haven’t taken one since and I don’t intend to, although I still carry a supply of sleeping pills with me (as I do a packet of cigarettes, and no I haven’t broken the seal, yet)..

    Now, I conquer sleep problems by a mixture of planning and yoga.

    Planning to the extent that I know my first night going east will usually be lousy as I would have slept on the flight over. So I plan for an good run when I arrive to try and tire myself out and early meetings on the first morning, if I am awake early, I don’t try to fight it.

    Going West, I generally don’t have any problems either way..

    Yoga, to the extend that I train my mind to accept a bad nights sleep as being part of travelling. Getting frustrated with getting to sleep will only increase the problem.

    Problem I find with hotel rooms are the mattresses and pillows are never what I am used to, hence the interrupted sleep. To counter any noise problems, I sleep with ear plugs. A good set of plugs, virtually silences everything.

    I have also taken to the odd shot or two of whisky about an hour before I go to bed – that also helps, but if I drink too much, it will stop me sleeping.

    Look forward to reading the finished article, Sally..


    I’d say the key for me is to try to move onto the time zone of the place I am going to about a day before I fly. If I head to the US, i will always try to stay up until at least 2200 on the day I arrive and eat on US time, not on UK time. Like Tim says above, keeping hydrated also really helps. I have taken to buying a 2L bottle of water before any flight over 6hrs and make sure that it is finished before I land (as well as limiting alcohol – apart from champagne!! – and never refusing water when it is bought around).

    As for sleeping, I try to stick with hotel groups who’s beds I sleep well on – the Sheraton brands normally suit me. I’ve had a few terrible experiences. Once I checked into a hotel in Tel Aviv and found ear plugs were provided. I should have taken their hint and used them as every single noise throughout the hotel was audible. A similar theme occurred in Istanbul although the problem arose due to the broken AC. My window was open, as was the window of the amorous couple next door. I was annoyed at the time, but now I can only have admiration for them as they disturbed me for at least 3 hours!!


    Slightly off topic, but there was a time in my life when I was flying 2-3 times a month SFO-FLL on the red-eye. Domestic USA travel is anyhow a nightmare and I was most of the time on the JetBlue flight ex Oakland. It left around 2200 and arrived around 0700 in Florida and I would need to go straight to the office upon landing.

    Anyhow, I had mastered the art of eating light (i.e. sashimi/ceviche) and drinking hard (Grey Goose on the rocks was preferred but a bottle+ of Pinot Noir also worked) to the point that I could basically pass out as soon as I got on board and sleep the full journey thru (in Economy mind you – knees jammed and all). I woke up feeling great.

    Only problems occurred when I had a significant delay (could not regulate properly) or arrived at the airport without sufficient time to execute my ritual (would have to start downing shots – not same effect).

    Worked like a charm for the better part of a year!

    Tom Otley

    I agree with superschris on this – well, apart from the bit about sleeping in the bathtub.

    My tip is to eat much less than normal, stay off the alcohol while travelling – since it makes me fall asleep OK, but then wakes me up again a few hours later – and work out the best temperature the air conditioning will allow.

    In hot countries I tend to chill the room while working / watching TV ready for bed, then when it’s time for sleep turn off the air conditioning which lessens noise, and means that although the room gradually warms during the night it generally doesn’t get too warm….


    Great subject Sally
    I’ve got to say that my sleeping patterns are so erratic that if you were to interpret my answers it would skew your research into nonsense.
    Firstly I’m a great believer in mind over matter until such time as the sandman bullies me.

    Q1) what disrupts my sleep……. I could sleep on a bed of nails in the middle of the artic circle or for that matter a Lillo in Death Valley at midday but……
    One week I’m staying in room 214 and my bed faces east and I’m fine, next week I’m next door with bed facing the opposite direction and Mr Insomnia has the pass key ….OR…….Landing in HK in the morning after catching 40 winks on the aircraft and I’m shattered. Then next trip I arrive at 6pm after being awake solid straight for 36 hours and I’m ready to head into Wan Chai.

    Q2) Depends, coming back from YVR it kicks in after 2 or 3 days. Returning from the Far East and no probs at all.

    Q3) Long term effects….This come back to my original point. IMO mental health and peace of mind, as Martyn suggests probably can counter sleep issues. I’ve talked before about the break up of my relationship, and if my brain decides it’s time to replay the past at bedtime I now distract it by quietly listening to the radio, whether I’m at home or in a hotel. Oh. And the most obvious effect isn’t a result of years of travelling……it’s unfortunately, just a long term result of YEARS !!!

    Q4) I’ve a responsible employer, I’m mostly always at my destination the night before.

    Finally my anecdote ……At a very posh Heathrow Hotel on the Bath Road….. Didn’t fully understand in my naïve way what this gorgeous women meant when we played what’s your favourite number game….Until we parted from the bar and I was back in my room !! Couldn’t get her out of my mind ,but also left the magic piece of paper down at the bar, 30 minutes with …” What the **** was the number?” rattling through my head, then another inane amount of time begging the barman to search the bin ! …….. Found out later she assumed I knew the game and she had chapped up my favourite 3 digit number….. lol


    Loss of sleep not a huge problem for me after multi time zone travel. For the first twenty years of my career I often had to work nights so got used to having to adapt sleep patterns accordingly. Strangely I feel jet lag worse going West than East, no idea why, but believe it is contrary to the norm. Maybe, having spent many years at sea, I was used to have a good nap in the afternoon, and still have one now whenever I am able. Sometimes I find myself dozing off when I should not, often during a meeting with our management accountants…….I am a bad boy!

    What I do find hard is sleeping with poor quality curtains/blinds, I like pitch black no matter where or what time. If I wake and it is dark, I can get back to sleep no problem, if light, that’s it, I am up.


    MrMichael your point about light and darkness is very interesting. Back in my youth light used to be a distraction to me; my theory is that back in Vancouver there wasn’t that much of a differentiation between winter and summer….not quite the equator but definitely not Scotland.
    Since moving here I’ve conditioned myself to sleep with windows and curtain’s open. So in the summer months I go to bed when it’s light and waken when it’s light, in the winter I wake in the dark, go to work in the dark and return home in the dark!, never mind going to bed in the dark !
    As for an afternoon cat nap—— sheer decadence : )



    Excellent topic this.

    1. I have been having general sleep issues for the last 3 years and so these days I sleep best in my own bed when I can sleep undisturbed for about 6 hours. Anywhere else and I will sleep worse. I usually find myself needing to get up and use the toilet once or twice a night which I almost never do at home. I have always been a poor sleeper on planes & trains and these days, I find it almost impossible to do so. Probably the single biggest cause of discomfort whilst away is the height of my pillow. At home, it is just right, anywhere else it is impossible to get right. I might have to start taking my own pillow with me on my travels…

    2. Strangely enough, on the last two occasions I flew back from the USA, I couldn’t sleep at all on the flight. However, I still managed to stay up all of the following day and went to bed at normal time. What I found with this process is that I instantly adjusted back to UK time. Before, when I would get a few hours sleep on the plane, I would find myself being unable to get to sleep until about 3am in the morning which was extremely disruptive if I had an early start the following morning. Going west to the USA is still the hardest though as I struggle to stay awake but then wake up early in the morning.

    3. My sleep issues began before I started long haul flying again. I don’t think travelling is exacerbating my issues and to be honest my health doesn’t seem to be affected by travelling. However, I do drink a lot of water on flights and champagne is the only alcohol I drink. I also prefer to skip breakfast on flights and to eat dinner at normal hours.


    I have travelled for more that 25 years and I suffer from sleep disorders.
    For the past year, I have been commuting every 2 weeks to North America & I find this particularly difficult.

    1 – We do not travel in Business – sleeping impossible.
    2 – There are several time changes within North America which also affect sleep patterns – for example – I travel from LA to Buffalo NY – when I arrive at my hotel its 11pm, my mind tells me it’s 11pm and therefore, bed time BUT in reality, it’s only 8pm (according to my body) and yet, I still have to be up at 6am in the current time zone.
    The same is true in the opposite direction.
    3 – Noisy hotels – inconsiderate guests
    4 – IF you have the chance to ‘lie in’ on a weekend for example, noisy housekeeping begins at 7.30am – Vacuum cleaners, shouts of “housekeeping” , knocks on several doors down the corridor – including my own even with the DND sign on the door!!
    5 – Every bed/pillow is different – 10 nights in 10 different hotels = no sleep
    6 – I find myself napping on the internal flights – I can’t stop myself from nodding off.
    7 – Intrusive air conditioning units – some noisy, some blowing at gale force – same in the winter with heaters.
    8 – I have tried sleep aids including Melatonin – nothing works for me

    Finally, to answer your question number 3 – I am much more irritable & grumpy than I used to be.
    More so on the return trip to the UK, when I have worked all day & then catch a flight at 8pm, (especially if it’s via LHR where the shambles at security is way beyond a joke) knowing I won’t get any sleep on the plane in WT+ and praying for an upgrade to CW because there is no availability for Avios upgrades as usual…..


    Hello Sally this is such an individual matter and it appears that it varies so much for individuals.

    Fortunately now it doesn’t really cause me issues, many years ago as a tourist when flying in economy days and nights. But these days fortunate to use premium cabins for all travel.

    I believe that hydration is very important and drink water and juices, but also tea and champagne, occasionally white wine and gin but only 2 glasses. Eating a good diet on board and don’t eat in the lounge pre flight as well.

    I use the black out blinds at the hotel, and normally the same chain as I like their beds and bedding. Against all advice I will sleep on arrival for 2 hours if before 4pm.

    Never work on arrival and would never go from a full days work to the flight.

    Once I get home tend to get back to normal same or next day, the worst that happens is an early rise the first day.

    I don’t believe my overall health is affected as long as I stick to my routine.

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 26 total)
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below