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Knock Yourself Out: How to Sleep on Public Transportation

by Claire on May 10, 2011

Trains, planes and buses may not be the king-sized bed with 300-thread count sheets you prefer, but chances are you’re going to have to spend a night or two sleeping in them.

Such is the life of a traveler.

Traveling overnight can really throw off your schedule if you don’t get some sleep, so in order to savor every minute of your precious vacation time here’s a few tips on how to sleep while you’re getting to your destination:

  • Stay busy during the day. If you are leaving at night, wake up early that day, and don’t take any naps. You want to be tired and ready for sleep once you’re on the train/bus/plane.
  • Exercising during the day can make a world of difference. If you don’t have time for a full-on workout session, then improvise. I usually walk laps around the airports if I have a layover or some time before my plane leaves. Even walking around for 30 minutes can make a big difference. So just stay active. Also try incorporating handstands to your bedtime prep routine. The inversion of heart over head helps with blood circulation leading to an overall calm which helps better ease into sleep.
  • Eat dinner. Not only does most food on airplanes suck, but the airports and bus terminals usually aren’t much better. But at the same time, it can be hard to sleep when you’re starving, so try to eat a (relatively healthy) large meal about an hour or so before you leave.
  • Watch the caffeine. About 4-6 hours before you need to sleep, stop drinking caffeine. While this is a pretty obvious one, it’s sometimes harder than it seems, especially if you work during the day, or had to get up really early to travel in the middle of the night. But do your body a favor, and stick to water. (Hydration is also really important when traveling!)

Water. And lots of it.

  • Be comfortable. You never know if your mode of transportation is going to be really hot, really cold or somewhere in between. The solution: Layer up! I always wear really broken in jeans or leggings, and then layer a few tops, with at least 1 being long-sleeved. That way, you can peel off or cover up as needed.  Shoes are your call, but I usually avoid flip flops, because I can’t sleep when my feet are cold.
  • Invest in a neck pillow.  As much as I feel like a complete dork when I’m carrying my pillow around an airport, I’m always so thankful I brought it.  A neck pillow can make sleeping in a chair a lot more comfortable. And it will help you avoid having to cuddle up against a window, or the stranger next to you.
  • If all else fails, take a sleeping pill. I’ve always been a troubled sleeper, so I am a big fan of sleeping pills to help regulate my sleep/travel schedule. If you have serious insomnia, a doctor can help you get prescription-strength pills. If you just need a quick fix, then head to your local drug store where there are a variety of different aids. Having forgot my sleeping pills en route to Australia, my friend gave me an Advil PM – and I woke up 6 hours later in Sydney. So really, they’re all pretty much the same, just follow the regular dosage. And don’t combine it with alcoholBonus: sleeping aids are a great way to get over jet lag at the beginning or end of a vacation.

What are your tricks for sleeping on buses/trains/airplanes? How do you better ease yourself into time change?

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Claire is a recent college grad turned expat, who is currently teaching English in South Korea. When she's not exploring Korea and writing about it, Claire enjoys fantasizing about future trips, shopping, dancing, and drinking dangerous amounts of caffeine. She plans to move to Buenos Aires in 2012. You can follow her adventures at

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