6 Ways to Preserve Sleep Hygiene While Travelling

Maintain healthy sleep habits—or even reset your sleep schedule—while on vacation. One writer shares how she stayed well-rested in the Canadian Rockies.

If you’ve ever been on a jam-packed holiday and experienced jetlag, overscheduling and sleep disruptions, you know what it’s like to come home feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation. But it’s completely possible to plan a trip that puts sleep hygiene first and will leave you energized—not drained. That’s what I did on a recent stay in Alberta, where I visited Calgary and the Rocky Mountains from Canmore to Lake Louise.

Before jetting off, I spoke to Dr. Charles Samuels, medical director at Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance and president of the Canadian Sleep Society. He recommended several ways to promote good sleep and I implemented them throughout my trip. Try them for yourself (feel free to steal my Alberta itinerary) and recharge those drained batteries.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Have a plan for your flights

“The symptoms of jetlag are generally experienced when one travels more than four time zones west or three time zones east,” Dr. Samuels told me. Since I flew from Toronto to Calgary (a time difference of only two hours), my circadian rhythm wasn’t thrown entirely out of whack. However, if you think that jetlag is a likely consequence of your journey, you can take a few steps to counteract it. “Get on the plane rested, change your watch to your destination time and adjust meal times immediately,” says Dr. Samuels. If it’s a long journey, he also suggests avoiding excessive work and overstimulation.

You could need up to a day to adjust for each time zone travelled, but avoid using sleeping pills to aid the process. “We now have substantial evidence that not only are we over-prescribing sedative/hypnotic medication to people with sleep problems,” says Dr. Samuels. “But the fact is that these medications are not solving sleep issues effectively and may have substantial long-term adverse effects on memory, concentration and cognitive function in some individuals.” (Instead of reaching for medication, consider one of these sleep-inducing products that can help you fall asleep.)

Photo Credit: Pexels

Develop a routine and maintain it

One of the best ways to protect sleep health is to create a routine that you follow every single day—even while travelling. “Maintaining a sleep routine is the number one behavioral intervention that improves sleep health,” says Dr. Samuels. “A stable sleep routine is one that is consistent on weekdays and only varies by one or two hours on the weekend for catch-up sleep,” says Dr. Samuels. It can also help to have a pre-bed ritual to calm your mind, reduce stress and signal your body that it’s time to snooze. Annie Graham, owner of Calgary’s XO Treatment Room, says that skin care can be a big part of that program, whether it includes facial massage, special ingredients like retinol and vitamin C that perform while you sleep or even products with calming scents.

You may also wish to schedule a facial when visiting a new place if there’s a big change in climate. After my flight and a few days in Alberta, my skin was dehydrated (here’s how to determine if your skin is dry or dehydrated) and flakey (the region is way drier than Toronto), so Annie brought me in for an hour of pampering where she exfoliated, blasted my broken capillaries and infused my face with her personal brand of serums. Her Lunar Veil overnight mask in particular is a soothing indulgence you can buy online even if you can’t make it onto her treatment table.

XO FACECARE Lunar Veil, $210, xotreatmentroom.com.

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Mount Engadine Lodge

Try a digital detox

“Exposure to technology is the most devastating health issue in society today and is equivalent to smoking and obesity,” says Dr. Samuels. “So limiting daily exposure and stopping four hours before bed for people who have sleep issues makes a huge difference.” Take a breather from the stress of emails, social media and texting whenever you can—or go one step further and retreat into the wilderness where Wi-Fi is sketchy at best. (Find out if you’re addicted to tech.)

I headed into the mountains to Mount Engadine Lodge, a two-hour drive from Calgary, where I stayed in one of a string of glamping tents that are available year-round (yes, even in the dead of winter!). Though they have tarp sides, they’re heated with a gas fireplace that you can control with a thermostat on the wall, so you’ll be super toasty all night long. Plus, the tents have no TVs, telephones or Wi-Fi, so you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the wild completely undisturbed. Dine in the main lodge where breakfast, bag lunches, afternoon tea and dinner are served, then spend the rest of your tech-free time prioritizing hiking, cycling and kayaking in the summer or snowshoeing, fat biking and cross-country skiing in the winter.

Photo Credit: Sophie Uliano

Choose a quiet hotel with a good bed

From the lodge, I headed further into the Rockies to stay at the famed Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise—about a two-hour drive from both Mount Engadine and Calgary. Though there are plenty of other accommodations in Lake Louise, I wanted to stay at the Chateau for one main reason: the beds. Fairmont mattresses, pillows and sheets are at the top of my hotel comfort list, plus Fairmont rooms tend to be super quiet and dark, which is key to a successful hotel stay (IMHO). The Fairmont Gold floor also has awesome snack options in its private lounge, whether you want a cup of tea before bed or a nibble of chocolate after dinner. If you stay in a Fairmont Gold room, pop in for a bite whenever you’re feeling peckish.

Photo Credit: Travel Alberta/Ben Girardi

Incorporate vigorous outdoor exercise

Two things that the average person can use more of? Fresh air and exercise. And there’s no better place to get your fill than Lake Louise. If you visit in winter, hit the slopes of Lake Louise Ski Resort during the day, skate on the lake in front of the Chateau in the early evening and then book a Night Owl Snowshoe tour on the surrounding terrain. That’s exactly how I spent my two days in the region and the snowshoe tour in particular created memories that I’ll never forget. The Mountain Adventure Guides are super knowledgeable and will take you on a magical nighttime trek through the forest while pointing out animal tracks, sharing thermoses of hot chocolate and giving tips for walking in snowshoes. From a sleep perspective, “exercise is best in the late afternoon,” says Dr. Samuels, “because vigorous exercise or training close to bedtime can seriously disrupt sleep.” The night tour happens fairly early, but you can always book a day snowshoe tour instead if you find that nighttime exercise keeps you up.

And if you visit the area in the summer instead, the activities are endless. You can book directly through the hotel for everything from rock climbing and horseback riding to helicopter tours and white-water rafting.

Photo Credit: Andrea Karr

Reduce stress

Getting rid of unwanted stress from work and day-to-day responsibilities is one of the main reasons many of us head on vacation in the first place. And while you’re on a fresh-air and digital-detox kick, consider throwing in some pup time, too. Owning a dog has been shown to have a whole host of benefits for stress levels, mood and self-esteem, but spending a few hours in the outdoors with a pack of dogs is also a whole lot of fun. I went for a two-hour dogsled ride with Mad Dogs & Englishmen near Canmore and it was surreal to ride along on a frozen lake, mountains rising up on either side, as I was pulled by a dozen dogs. Tours range in time from 1.5 hours to multiple days, so you can get your fill of the wilderness, learn to mush and meet the friendly working dogs that call the mountains home. And if you visit in the summer instead, it’s also possible to visit the kennel and play with upwards of 90 Alaskan huskies and puppies. (For more, check out these ways to stress less and be happier.)

Photo Credit: Travel Alberta/Mike Seehagel
Photo Credit: Travel Alberta/Mike Seehagel

Hydrotherapy has also been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep quality, so a vacation spa day with alternating dips in hot and cold pools might be in order. Kananaskis Nordic Spa is located about 40 minutes from Canmore and is attached to the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge (which serves my all-time favourite coffee from Calgary’s Rosso). It features five outdoor hot, warm and cold pools, saunas, a steam bath, rest areas and massage cabins (book super early if you want to nab a spot) surrounded by tall pines and mountain peaks.

Stick with these tips when you travel—and even when you return home—and you’ll be on your way to feeling more rested in no time. But if you still have problems with sleep after implementing all these tricks and they persist beyond your time away, talk to your primary health-care professional for advice or a referral to a sleep centre for a proper evaluation.

Next, learn the easy ways to beat jet lag.