Tired of Being Tired

April 18, 2011

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.

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?

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?

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  1. Comment by Peter Heck

    Peter Heck Reply April 19, 2011 at 1:05 am

    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. :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 19, 2011 at 1:33 am

      Oh no! Revenge of the birds…been there – when we lived in Perth we had a huge tree right outside our bedroom window and it was the high-rise housing for what we think was every magpie and wild cockatoo on the river. Stupid paradise, indeed =)

    • Comment by Caz Makepeace

      Caz Makepeace April 27, 2011 at 5:45 am

      Oh we used to have packs of wild dogs in the side alley next to our apartment in Bangkok. Terrible!! Craig used to throw things out the window at them to get them to disappear and shut up!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm

      Ugh – not a pleasant sound!

  2. Comment by Alex

    Alex Reply April 19, 2011 at 9:51 am

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      I generally think it’s better to visit places on your own, especially when you want to get good photos! Would love to visit Luxor – sounds incredible having it to yourself.

  3. Comment by Tom @ HeadingThere

    Tom @ HeadingThere Reply April 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I’m with you on the early starts, why on earth does every tour have to start at 7am? It’s supposed to be a holiday!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      I know, right? We blame much older travellers who are always up at the crack of dawn…but that’s probably not a fair assumption, right?

  4. Comment by Andi Perullo

    Andi Perullo Reply April 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Haha this is EXACTLY why I can’t stay in hostels. I’m a sleep snob!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 19, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      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 =)

  5. Comment by Jan Ross

    Jan Ross Reply April 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    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!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm

      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!

  6. Comment by Debbie Beardsley

    Debbie Beardsley Reply April 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Oh the elusive sleep! I started bringing ear plugs where ever I go even if I am by myself! Not sure they help but I like to think they do. Sleeping on the road is just hard.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm

      Earplugs definitely help us! We’ve lived around noisy neighbours in our last few flats for years so we got used to using them at home. I wouldn’t think of going to sleep without them on the road…

  7. Comment by Jeremy B

    Jeremy B Reply April 19, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I also have to go with the ear plugs. When traveling, you never know how noisy it will be and they can really help you sleep well and soundly!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:37 am

      Definitely – we always travel with them. Noise is actually less of a problem for us than our silly schedules =)

  8. Comment by Jimshu

    Jimshu Reply April 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    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!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:38 am

      Hahaha – thanks, Jim…we’ll be sure to remember that tip when we finally get there =)

  9. Comment by Alisha Robertson

    Alisha Robertson Reply April 19, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    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! :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:41 am

      Please do! =) We have been trying to take advantage of siesta time as well, though our siestas are usually from like 2-7pm; just a wee bit longer than everyone else ;)

  10. Comment by Erica Kuschel

    Erica Kuschel Reply April 19, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Hostels are pretty dangerous in that regard. I find myself hanging out with everyone every day. :P

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:39 am

      So true! The social atmosphere can completely suck you in, especially when the hostel has a bar and a good vibe.

  11. Comment by Sophie

    Sophie Reply April 19, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Additional key factor in the Pacific: Flights at the oddest hours. Like 3:30 am.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:39 am

      Wow – that’s nuts. Never encountered that before!

  12. Comment by Michael Figueiredo

    Michael Figueiredo Reply April 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:42 am

      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.

  13. Comment by manonthelam

    manonthelam Reply April 20, 2011 at 4:27 am

    I find booze actually helps me sleep. If I have one or two beers it puts me right out. That and the sleeping pills… :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:44 am

      That’s the way. Don’t listen to those people who say alcohol ruins your sleep. Go with whatever works we say =)

  14. Comment by Rob

    Rob Reply April 20, 2011 at 5:34 am

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:48 am

      We grind with the best of them, Rob. Sometimes our knuckles bleed…

  15. Comment by Dedo Prudi Baba Spieh

    Dedo Prudi Baba Spieh Reply April 20, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Haha wait til you have kids, then you’ll know the REAL meaning of sleep depravation!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:50 am

      Yeah, but we’ll be broke then so it won’t matter.

  16. Comment by Katrina

    Katrina Reply April 20, 2011 at 10:48 am

    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. ;)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:54 am

      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.

  17. Comment by travelguy

    travelguy Reply April 20, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Wow what a question for a traveler.Sleep is such an issue when we’re travelling.Near or far,sleep is just as important as food.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:51 am

      It’s very true. Though we rarely choose sleep over food =)

  18. Comment by Laurel

    Laurel Reply April 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    I can really relate to this, but don’t have any advice. I usually feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:56 am

      I don’t think you’re alone in that. Seems to be a common condition associated with itchy feet =)

  19. Comment by Matt Hope

    Matt Hope Reply April 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    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!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:56 am

      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!

  20. Comment by Amy & Kieron

    Amy & Kieron Reply April 21, 2011 at 2:31 am

    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!

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 2:57 am

      Love this tip, guys! And must admit that we’ve indulged ourselves a couple of times already this year =)

  21. Comment by Jade

    Jade Reply April 21, 2011 at 9:28 am

    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!! :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      My father actually travels with a cpap. It is a huge apparatus to carry around. Luckily we don’t have the symptoms you describe but thanks so much for describing the condition here – very informative!

  22. Comment by Turkey's For Life

    Turkey's For Life Reply April 21, 2011 at 10:29 am

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks so much, Julia. We get a decent night’s rest about every third or fourth night. We’re kind of starting to miss short-term travel!

  23. Comment by Anonymous

    Anonymous Reply April 21, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 22, 2011 at 2:18 am

      Thanks, Suzy! We’re in Cordoba for five days over the Easter holidays at the moment and trying to get some serious R&R. Of course they put a dorm full of giggly girls right next to our room, haha

  24. Comment by Robingraham6

    Robingraham6 Reply April 21, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    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…

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 22, 2011 at 2:19 am

      Sing songs are ridiculous any time of the day. Next time maybe go over and join in but sing louder than everyone else and do a funny dance. That’ll shut ‘em up =)

  25. Comment by Federico @ maitravelsite

    Federico @ maitravelsite Reply April 21, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    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… :)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 22, 2011 at 2:22 am

      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…

  26. Comment by Danny and Jillian

    Danny and Jillian Reply April 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm

      Great tip, guys! As I type this we have checked ourselves into a nice hotel in Cordoba for two nights to rest and recharge. Not quite a quiet town but we are bound here by a flight out on Monday.

  27. Comment by Rambling Tart

    Rambling Tart Reply April 23, 2011 at 5:48 am

    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. :-)

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      Oh yes – we have very grumpy attitudes when we are tired. That’s what inspired our post =)

  28. Comment by Evan and Nora Ronken

    Evan and Nora Ronken Reply April 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    I think you do have to plan “down” days into your travels in order to stay sane. Traveling is not fun you are always tired and on-the-go.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm

      Definitely! It’s hard sometimes but worth it even if you sacrifice a few sights =)

  29. Comment by Caz Makepeace

    Caz Makepeace Reply April 27, 2011 at 5:44 am

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      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! =)

  30. Comment by Mara Gorman

    Mara Gorman Reply April 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    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…

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      Mmm…looks like it will only get worse for us then because we plan to start trying for a family next year

  31. Comment by Christina

    Christina Reply April 30, 2011 at 4:35 am

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John April 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm

      We haven’t done any camping but it sounds like it would be a great experience for the reasons you mentioned. We’ve been doing quite a few hotels lately. Thanks so much for the tips! =)

  32. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew Reply October 27, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    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.

    • Comment by Andrea and John

      Andrea and John October 27, 2011 at 10:48 pm

      Yes! There is way too much to do in this life and sleep is such a huge time-suck, isn’t it?

  33. Comment by Carole

    Carole Reply October 30, 2012 at 6:20 am

    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.

    • Comment by inspiringtravellers

      inspiringtravellers October 30, 2012 at 10:20 am

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

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