Tired of Being Tired

Catching the sunrise (by choice or not) is costing us precious sleep time.

We’re not sure when it started for us. Probably somewhere in New Zealand with one early bus ride too many or at a hostel with television in the room. We’ve been accumulating a sleep deficit. While not as critical as a budget deficit, it’s really wearing us down. We’re not sure how many hours of sleep we should be getting a night on our travels but are quite certain that we’re not getting enough.

The National Sleep Foundation has quite a bit to say on the matter of how much sleep people need. Hmmm. Seven to nine hours per night? More like six and a half…if we’re lucky. We’ve been guilty of this in the past, at home, with no excuses short of good late-night television at our disposal. So part of the problem is just our nocturnal personalities. But travel has really exacerbated our sleeplessness and we’re not really sure how we’re going to improve. We blame it on a few key factors, which may or may not plague our readers as they travel:

Early tours

Why does every tour seem to start early in the morning, even to places where the best time to visit isn’t necessarily at the start or middle of the day? Not having a car seriously hampers our ability to sleep until a decent hour and still go out to see things outside the domain of public transport.

Early buses

In New Zealand we often had only one or two choices per day to get from points A to B. Rooster hour. If we were lucky and the bus left in the afternoon we still had to get up in time for check-out with nowhere to sleep while we waited around. In South America we’ve had a little more flexibility but not much because we’re travelling out of the busy season.

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European schedules

This was definitely not an issue in New Zealand but here in South America the dinner hour is nine o’clock at the very earliest. We’ve shifted our schedules and are rarely hungry before ten. So we eat late, which means we can’t really fall asleep at an early hour to be properly rested for those early morning starts. We see no end to this in Europe.


We’re drinking more than usual on our travels and alcohol impairs sleep. We don’t drink to get drunk very often but even a couple of drinks can cause a problem. There’s also been times when a predicted quiet night turns into a big one - one wine, two beer, three shot, oh dear!

Breakfast Included

Never have two words brought such glee and utter dismay at the same time. In theory one thinks, “Awesome! We’ll get up and have a big feed and then won’t have to eat until dinner!” The reality is that you begrudgingly sacrifice your sleep for a coffee and a slice of bread, because it makes sense, right? Wrong!

Notice none of our factors include partying, because we just don’t find ourselves in nightclubs or out drinking into the wee hours anymore. If there’s a good crowd at the hostel we may find ourselves drinking until two or three in the morning, but that’s been a rare occurrence for us this year (though heartily welcomed). John’s mother is probably reading this in horror right now and about to send us an email telling us to take better care of ourselves, but seriously, Mum, these things can’t be avoided. We know, we know: get to bed early and for the love of Gospo stop drinking but where’s the fun in that?

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Perhaps the Sleep Foundation has some advice for us? (Please note that the Sleep Foundation has provided some excellent tips here and we are by no means trying to mock them. It’s just that we don’t see many of them working for us).

Let’s see:

  • Establish consistent sleep/wake schedules (Well that‘s quite simple - if you don‘t sleep, you don‘t wake up.)
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music. (Er, we’re feeling very lucky these days if there are sides to the shower and our room is away from the hostel common areas.)
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows (Hilarity; it‘s almost always one or the other.)
  • Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime (Honestly, who really needs to consume a midnight steak and bottle of wine?)
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime and give up smoking (Any points for being non-smokers?)

If you’re interested in the full list of tips, please click through to the article - it’s full of good information even if you aren’t travelling.

So we ask, dear fellow travellers: how do you make sure you get your zzzz’s on the road?


  1. Carole 30 October, 2012 at 06:20 Reply

    So understand. I work on a cruise ship and just worked 70-80 hours per week for 3 months straight (no days off). I came home for 5 days then traveled for 50 hours to spend 49 hours in Kuwait (job interview). Ended up at the doctor getting blood tests to be sure there was nothing physically wrong with me other than sheer exhaustion.
    When I was a Tour Mgr. flying from FL to Istanbul and Athens every other week I became a homeopathic addict taking melatonin to sleep and ginseng to wake up.

    • inspiringtravellers 30 October, 2012 at 10:20

      Goodness – that’s even more intense than our schedule last year! Hope you get some much-deserved R&R soon =)

  2. Andrew 27 October, 2011 at 15:31 Reply

    This is something I gotta learn in my normal life, let alone while traveling. There are always so many things to balance and sleep is the easiest to give up often.

  3. Christina 29 April, 2011 at 23:35 Reply

    I understand the dilemma. And I had to laugh when you mentioned breakfast included – it’s the devil in disguise. When my partner and I travel, we find that the quality of sleep we get in hostels is ok for a certain period of time, but it’s good to mix it up with a stay in a budget hotel once in a while, where you really stay to spend time in the room relaxing and sleeping as opposed to just having a roof over your head. It’s also great to just go camping, there are not check-out times, you can choose a quiet corner/campsite and not rush around.

  4. Mara Gorman 27 April, 2011 at 15:51 Reply

    Since I travel with two kids who usually wake up sometime between 4:30 and 5:30 when we’re on the road, I’m afraid I can’t be of much help. But let me know if you figure it out…

  5. Caz Makepeace 27 April, 2011 at 00:44 Reply

    Yeah, I gave up sleep the minute Kalyra was born. It’s amazing how mothers can adjust. I rarely get more than 6 hours and even then its uninterrupted. I actually long for those travel days when sleep was in abundance!!
    Know what you mean though, travel is hard work. I suggest you find somewhere to pull up for a week or so and take time to catch up. All the running around exhausts you as well which is why you feel extra tired. Also make sure you look at your diet. Are you eating the right foods? Try to get yourself some Spirulina, it is so good for you and is packed with lots of natural green energy. It got me through the first few months of motherhood and I have never stopped taking it since.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 27 April, 2011 at 17:14

      Thanks for all these great tips, Caz! We could definitely be getting more fruits and veggies, but we don’t cook very much and it’s nearly impossible to find veggies on the menu in Argentina (aside from salads – for me, lettuce doesn’t count!). I’m just checking out Spirulina now…sounds like it’s worth checking out. Will look for it! =)

  6. Krista 23 April, 2011 at 00:48 Reply

    Oh this makes me laugh. :-) I HATE not being rested on a trip. It wears you down so quickly and affects attitude, appetite, and did I mention attitude? :-) Funny that alcohol impairs sleep – I find a glass of wine so relaxing it puts me right out. :-)

  7. Danny and Jillian 22 April, 2011 at 13:05 Reply

    Ugh I understand that. We regularly found ourselves exhausted and ended up “scheduling” days to hang out and do nothing but lounge and sleep. It’s tough because if you can’t sleep enough you’re too tired to enjoy the places you visit!

    Look for a nice quiet hostel or posada in a small town where there isn’t much to do. Likely there won’t be too many other backpackers to keep you up at night! You’ll appreciate the time to recharge and relax.

  8. Federico @ maitravelsite 21 April, 2011 at 18:35 Reply

    Early morning bus rides or overnight buses (no sleep) are what kill me. But if I can get a private room at a hostel or sleep in a cheap hotel (going to be early) for a day I am ready to go again for a few days. My cycle is about 4-5 days without too much sleep, then I need a night that will clock at least 8 hours. If at the beach, a mid afternoon nap can do wonders too… :)

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 21 April, 2011 at 21:22

      It’s true; one good long sleep does recharge the batteries for at least a couple of days. We always have a private room but thin walls are a problem. Ah, mid-avo naps on the beach…we need to clock some beach time…

  9. Robingraham6 21 April, 2011 at 15:45 Reply

    I read this article while sitting up in bed in a guesthouse while a Spanish family and their children decide to have a sing song right outside our room at ten o’clock at night, so it resonates…

  10. suzyguese 21 April, 2011 at 12:46 Reply

    Oh how I can relate. In Ireland, I felt like I was getting up at 7AM everyday just to get to breakfast in time and also check out of the hotel. Once I got home, I think I had jet lag for two weeks as I was trying to get back to my routine of 9 hours of sleep a night. The late dinners in Europe can also be tricky. I think the best advice is to book a few days, maybe even a week, in one place. That way you can get caught up on sleep and not feel like you have to be out of the hostel room or up early to see everything in a day or two.

  11. Turkey's For Life 21 April, 2011 at 05:29 Reply

    We feel for you because we only go away for a few days at a time and come home feeling sleep deprived. We use night buses as as well to save on hostel fees. Not the most comfortable night’s sleep. And then there’s the alcohol,too. Can’t be helped. :) Hope you get a good night’s sleep soon.

  12. Jade 21 April, 2011 at 04:28 Reply

    haha, this is funny because I work in Sleep med. Sleeping on your right side is best for you because it puts less pressure on your heart. If you are snoring, wake up with a headache almost every morning, dry mouth- you might have sleep apnea. If you can see a sleep doc this is best, as you may need a cpap machine. I realize that carrying a huge machine while traveling doesn’t seem like the best or most practical idea, but if you are never reaching REM you’ll never feel fully rested. Okay- i’ll get off my soap box now!! :)

  13. Amy & Kieron 20 April, 2011 at 21:31 Reply

    When you’re on the road long-term and staying in budget accommodation, I think it’s necessary to splurge once in a while (not massively, but maybe $150-$200 to pay for a nice hotel) and just have a rest day and catch up on some sleep in a good bed. It’s amazing what one night of good sleep can do for you!

  14. Matt Hope 20 April, 2011 at 11:07 Reply

    Try scheduling yourself to move at a slower pace. So on days when there are no early buses or tours you can relax and sleep in. And find some hammocks for some mid-day napping!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 20 April, 2011 at 21:56

      We agree, Matt. In the past we’ve both always travelled at a much slower pace than we are this year, spending weeks if not months in one place. So we’re learning about ourselves on this tour that this type of fast-paced travel is not ideal for us. Love hammocks!

  15. Katrina 20 April, 2011 at 05:48 Reply

    I feel ya! The hubby and I have started to give in and laze around more when traveling. We don’t always see as much, but what we do see, we tend to enjoy more. Also, a great deal of what we enjoy is meeting people (surprised the heck out of my introverted self!), so the lazy pace seems to work well for that.

    The only thing I still can’t get over is, despite good earplugs, getting woken up at 5 a.m. by the call to morning prayer in the African countries we’ve visited. The food and the tour / transport schedules I can choose; the prayers, though… Perhaps I need to remember to make thick walls and distance from minarets a priority when choosing hostels. 😉

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 20 April, 2011 at 21:54

      5 a.m.?! That’s hardcore. I bet there would be a good buck in soundproof hotel rooms for foreigners in those countries. Agree with you about just taking it easy – we’ve been doing that too; technically “seeing” way less but feeling a bit better about our time spent in each place.

  16. Rob 20 April, 2011 at 00:34 Reply

    Grind it out! I can relate though, over tired is kinda one the cornerstone of long term travel. That said, it’s worth it. Try more overnight buses.

  17. Michael Figueiredo 19 April, 2011 at 18:48 Reply

    Haha! Good list of tips! I know that whenever I travel I am so exhausted at the end of the day that I have no energy for nightclubbing or anything else. Plus, it’s hard to get a full 8 hours of sleep in a strange bed.

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 20 April, 2011 at 21:42

      Yes, sadly it has been a very long time since we’ve seen the inside of a nightclub. Agree – it’s really hard to sleep properly in strange beds. I find that even in some of the more comfortable hotel beds.

  18. Alisha Robertson 19 April, 2011 at 18:41 Reply

    Funny that I just read this being that I had to take an afternoon siesta today because of a sleepless overnight bus. But, siestas are acceptable in south america :) So, the good news is when you make it this way you may not feel quite as guilty. I definitely haven’t mastered the deprivation of sleep…if I figure it out- I’ll send the secret your way! :)

  19. Jimshu 19 April, 2011 at 17:46 Reply

    Ear plugs are a great idea, a must for most travel. But never in Africa…you need to be able to hear an elephant marching towards your tent!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 19 April, 2011 at 12:39

      I know!!! I miss our usual nice hotels that we stay at when we aren’t on the road full-time. We couldn’t afford to do this trip if we didn’t keep accommodation cheap, though. Living vicariously through your chic digs this year =)

  20. Jan Ross 19 April, 2011 at 07:55 Reply

    My husband and I are excellent nappers and are usually on the same nap schedule. We look at each other, fall into bed and snooze for an hour or so. Then we’re good to go. But I imagine this is not easy in a hostel!

    • Geert @ Inspiring Travellers 19 April, 2011 at 12:35

      That’s a fantastic skill to have! We try to nap – the good thing about siesta is it gives you a good excuse to sleep in the late afternoon until dinner. But it does depend on where you’re sleeping. Noise is not a problem but light can be – many hostels have these flimsy translucent curtains on the windows. I carry my earplugs and a sleep mask with me everywhere!

  21. Alex 19 April, 2011 at 04:51 Reply

    Ah the breakfast is always a good reason to wake up. But an alternative solution is to go out late enough to come back to the hotel when they start serving it 😉
    But early tours no way… Younger I went to Luxor to visit the Valley of the Kings during the day while everyone was going there at 6am. It was very (very) warm indeed but at least we had the whole site for ourselves which was amazing.

  22. Peter Heck 18 April, 2011 at 20:05 Reply

    Oh boy, can we relate with you guys there lately. We have the decent bed and pillow, we don’t drink (much), and we have every ability to go to bed early.

    But there are these stupid damn tropical birds that get us up sometime around 6. We are NOT morning people. Stupid birds. Stupid paradise. :)

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