Alaska Sleep Education Center

Packing for Better Sleep on Vacation

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on Apr 5, 2019 12:00:00 PM

Traveling has never been easier for business or pleasure. With apps for white noise and electronic devices to help pass the time on a plane, you can pack your way to a better international or domestic flight. By following these packing tips and recognizing the signs of travel fatigue, you will be on your way to a more relaxing vacation.


Travel by Air

If you’ve ever traveled over multiple time zones, you’ve likely dealt with jet lag. The official term for jet lag is “desynchronosis,” a condition that results from alterations to the body's circadian rhythms resulting from rapid transmeridian (east–west or west–east) travel on aircraft. Jet lag symptoms may include:


  • Disturbed sleep — such as insomnia, early waking or excessive sleepiness
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or functioning at your usual level
  • Stomach problems, constipation or diarrhea
  • A general feeling of not being well
  • Mood changes


The higher the altitude, the greater the sleep disruption. Generally, sleep disturbance becomes greater at altitudes of 13,200 feet or more. The disturbance is thought to be caused by diminished oxygen levels and accompanying changes in respiration. Most people adjust to new altitudes in approximately two to three weeks not giving much time for a quick vacation.

There are also times where jet lag is harder to recover from depending on age or the trip:

  • Number of time zones crossed. The more time zones you cross, the more likely you are to be jet-lagged.
  • Flying east. You may find it harder to fly east, when you "lose" time, than to fly west, when you gain it back.
  • Being a frequent flyer. Pilots, flight attendants and business travelers are most likely to experience jet lag.
  • Being an older adult. Older adults may need more time to recover from jet lag than do younger adults.


Although jet lag is not a serious condition, it can make it hard for you to enjoy your vacation for the first few days. Besides practicing patience with your family, here are some things to remember prior to traveling:

  • Drink water, not coffee. By staying hydrated during your flight, the circulation to tired legs and restless bodies will help provide a restful nap. Tip: coffee dehydrates you during travel but can help perk you up when arriving at your destination.
  • Bring a travel pillow and blanket. Especially for international flights, pack a small pillow and blanket to make the flight more comfortable. Tip: airline pillows are sold at airports but are less expensive prior to traveling. Buy a blanket at a discount store.
  • Full size pillows. Maybe a travel pillow doesn’t cut it. Press and pack bags compresses your full size pillow without the need of a vacuum. I recently used one on a trip and it easily fit in my carry-on bag. Tip: do not forget a comfortable pillowcase.
  • Eye masks. If you are not normally an eye mask sleeper consider it for a flight. It will block out unwanted cabin lights. Tip: an eye mask signals to fellow travelers and the flight attendant you do not want to be bothered.
  • Remember that air travel can be stuffy and hot one minute then cold the next. Pack an extra outfit in your carryon and dress in layers. Tip: ditch the jeans and tied shoes. Try some leggings, jogging pants, or slip on shoes for comfort.
  • Ear plugs or earbuds. While both eliminate distractions, one may be favorable to you over the other. Ear plugs give complete noise free sleep while others need white noise or sound. Tip: even if the airline provides earbuds with airline channels, consider downloading music to your device. You may end up with faulty head jacks.

On arrival, avoid heavy meals or strenuous exercise, spend time outdoors preferably in sunlight, and sleep at a "normal" time for the destination time zone. Resetting your watch helps to switch your circadian rhythm.

Alaska Airlines' CPAP Policy


  • Travel with white noise. Pack either a small fan, white noise machine or download an app on your cell phone. White noise will help drown out any unwanted noise in the parking lot or in the hallway. Tip: sleep at home with some white noise prior to travel.
  • Diffuse. If you normally have lavender aromas filling the bedroom, pack a travel diffuser. Tip: if you are an avid essentials oil user, make certain to pack the small 3-ounce bottles, so they are TSA-friendly.
  • Bring your travel CPAP. Don’t risk an in complete sleep while trying to enjoy a relaxing vacation. Tip: CPAP machines are considered medical devices covered under the American's with Disabilities Act and do not count as one of your carry-on items so if you are traveling by plane, it counts separately.
  • Pack a photo. For business travelers, it is nice to have a family or familiar photo travel with you. Tip: if you have young children, ask for some handmade art you can put on the bathroom mirror. Anything to remind you of home can help.
  • Do not disturb. Place this on your door when you arrive. This little sign will help save you from early housekeeping visits. Tip: leave a larger tip if you wait a few days for housekeeping services. Sometimes you may miss the boat on housekeeping with the sign out.

No matter your sleeping arrangements, do not let sleep apnea hinder your travel plans. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, you want to be at your best, and you're not going to get there if you're losing sleep.

If you need any additional information on traveling with a CPAP machine, or would like to purchase a travel specific CPAP machine, feel free to contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic.

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Topics: travel, sleep deprivation

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