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Sleep Tips

Buona Notte! Tales of Adventure, Jetlag and How to Get Sleep on Planes

Last month my husband and I packed our bags, dropped our kids off at their grandparents’ house and boarded a plane for Italy. Our European adventure included Rome, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Venice and Tuscany! While it was difficult to say goodbye to our little ones for two weeks, my husband and I were looking forward to spending some quality time together, and after all, vacations like this only come around every eight years; you see, I’ve worked for Mattress Firm for eight years, a feat of endurance that is rewarded with an eight-day-long sabbatical in addition to our regularly allotted vacation time. I knew I’d miss my babies, but they probably had even more fun than we did that week – their Michigan grandparents tend to spoil them since they don’t get to see our Texan babies every day!

The moment I found our seats on the plane, my pre-travel worries subsided. The seat I was looking at was actually more like a sleeping pod. If it’s in your budget, I highly recommend spending a little more or using your miles to fly business class when traveling overseas. My husband and I are both pretty serious about sleep (I’m a self-proclaimed sleep snob) – probably a result of working at Mattress Firm as long as we have – so we prioritized sleep on the flight and cashed in all our points for the seats that recline all the way to allow passengers a more comfortable slumber. It was truly one of the coolest sleep experiences I’ve ever had and made our arrival (and the jet lag) much more pleasant.

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We arrived in Rome approximately nine hours later, well-rested, albeit seven hours ahead of the Central Daylight Time Zone we’re accustomed to. The best way I know to alleviate jet-lag is to spend the first day or two actively adjusting to your new time zone – keeping yourself awake when the natives are awake, and sleeping when they sleep. I know some people prefer to stay on their own time zone, which might be a better option if you’re only in town for a short time or the time zones aren’t radically different. My husband and I decided to get on Roman time as quickly as possible; so we kept ourselves awake with espresso when we got in early that morning, even though to our bodies it felt like the middle of the night. Since we had slept on the flight over, it wasn’t too difficult to stay awake that first day. Plus, we had an action-packed day of sightseeing ahead of us, which included a bus tour, the coliseum, pizza and gelato (lots of gelato). We adjusted pretty quickly, but did have to turn in a wee bit early the first couple of days.

On our first night we stayed in a great property rented through AirBnB that was close to the Spanish Fountain, but tucked away from the hustle and bustle of tourist traffic and noise. A friend recommended this place and the calm “local” environment helped us rest easy. Assuming that they have quality beds, my husband and I have never had trouble sleeping in hotel rooms to our knowledge; but studies show that sleeping in a new place can be detrimental to your quality of sleep – even if you’re not immediately aware of it. New sounds, smells and stimuli can keep you from getting the deep sleep you experience in your own home, which is a more familiar environment for your sleeping brain. For example, if you typically sleep with a white noise machine at home, there are several smartphone apps for sleep you can use when you travel. I use the White Noise app when our kids come along and when I need a little extra help falling asleep. If you have a trip planned you might test one of these white noise apps before you leave so you can adjust to it, since you likely won’t be bringing your white noise machine with you on the plane. That said, some sleep equipment is necessary for your health – like a CPAP mask for the treatment of sleep apnea, or a memory foam pillow to support your neck – and those may be worth bringing with you. My bedtime essentials include comfy PJs and a good sleep mask.

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Another challenge to sleeping in Italy came in the form of one of Italy’s best-known exports: vino! My husband and I indulged ourselves in a glass of wine (or a few!) with dinner several evenings over the course of our trip, despite our awareness that alcohol disrupts sleep. It is well-documented that although alcohol makes you feel sleepy and helps you fall asleep initially, it is not conducive to getting deep, restful sleep throughout the night. But if there’s ever an excuse to use the expression, “when in Rome,” we figured this was it, so we decided to enjoy ourselves for the time being and return to our good sleep habits when we returned home! Luckily Italian wine seems to have some sort of magical powers that wards off hangovers, even after wine tasting in Tuscany and a night of fine dining and drinks at Da Fiore in Venice.

Are you a frequent flier, traveler or adventurer? How do you manage to sleep during your travels? Share your tips in the comments below!

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