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.

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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11 years ago

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.

Reply to  Andrew

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

12 years ago

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… Read more »

Reply to  Christina

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! =)

12 years ago

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…

Reply to  Mara Gorman

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

12 years ago

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… Read more »

Reply to  Caz Makepeace

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! =)

12 years ago

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.

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

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