By Christine Ryan
Time-zone changes, jet lag, strange noises, beds that are simply different from what you’re used to—even people who usually have no trouble sleeping can become insomniacs away from home. Here, our sleep team and travel editors share the gear they use to cope with restless nights on the road, vetted through hours of testing and years of personal experience.
First, ensure that you have the most important elements: darkness, quiet, warmth, and head support, especially if you’re on a plane or in a car.
At home, you’d be able to install blackout curtains or blinds. On the road, covering your eyes is often your only option for blocking out light. A mask can also help you cope with a partner who likes to read in bed.
Feels like it’s not there
Flat and soft
Noise-cancelling earbuds (and earplugs)
If you’re on a plane (or train or automobile), wearing earbuds that actively block the sound of the engines and your fellow passengers is worth the mild annoyance of having things in your ears while you’re trying to sleep.
The best Bluetooth earbuds
The best noise-cancelling earbuds
Best budget noise-cancelling headphones
The cheapest way to block out noise
These headphone-headband hybrids don’t actively cancel noise, so they’re not great for loud planes. For hotels and other terrestrial locations, though, they’re the most comfortable way to listen to whatever music or sounds soothe you.
Headphones you can’t feel
Studies show that random, electronic white noise works better than rainfall or other natural sounds to mask aural clutter. Apps are the most convenient way to create it, but the most effective option is a machine—and some are surprisingly portable.
The best white noise machine
A customizable app
A packable blanket or throw serves two useful purposes for the traveler: providing extra warmth when the plane or hotel’s industrial-strength AC kicks in, and offering a modicum of privacy in any situation where you’re trying to sleep in public.
Warmth and comfort for car or hotel
Best for the plane
A travel pillow—also known as a neck pillow—may seem like a waste of packing space, especially given that it won’t be much use at your destination. But starting off your trip in a somewhat well-rested state is worth bringing the extra gear.
The most supportive pillow
Its tall memory-foam walls let it offer more support than any other pillow we tested. It’s also shaped to sit flush against a headrest, and it compresses to a manageable size.
A pillow you can get at the airport
A pillow for side-sleepers and space savers
Encouraging better sleep habits and setting the right mood can help too.
These apps include smart alarms, which you can set to wake you up when you’re in a light sleep mode, helping to avoid grogginess. Some apps offer advice on how to improve your sleep, too.
The most useful sleep app
Basic sleep info for Android
For many of us, the thing we miss most about not being in our own beds is our own pillow. Bringing a beloved one might relax you and make you more likely to drop off.
For back- and side-sleepers
Between a regular pillow and a travel one
Along with teaching you the tools to cope with churning monkey mind, these apps include guided sleep meditations meant to help you wind down at night.
A meditation app for beginners
Even if pajamas aren’t your thing at home, wearing them when you’re sleeping in a strange place can make you feel just a bit more secure. And not having to scramble for clothes when the fire alarm goes off—it’s happened to us—is a plus.
A set of PJs for women
PJ bottoms for guys
PJs for the kids
These soft, thick 100 percent cotton jammies stand up to years of wear. They come in many striped varieties, as well as shorty versions that are perfect for hot summer nights. Kids sizes start at 0 to 3 months and go up to 14/16.
Although many people would say that too much ambient light gets in the way of their sleep, some others (and not all of them are children) find a warm, flickering light to be a reassuring presence in a new place.
Having a hot drink after dinner can serve as a calming transition to bedtime, but coffee and regular caffeinated tea pose the obvious, jittery problems, and not everyone can stomach warm milk. Herbal teas are the perfect compromise.
Our favorite relaxing tea
Things to avoid
Alcoholic drinks: As tempting as a nightcap might be, resist if you’re concerned about getting a good night’s rest. A few drinks might make you drowsy, but research has shown that alcohol disrupts restorative REM sleep—and the more you imbibe, the worse the effects.
Tablets: Or at least reduce the time you spend using your tablet close to bedtime, even if yours has a “night” mode that shifts the display away from the melatonin-blocking blue end of the spectrum. To read yourself to sleep, bring a book.
Blue-light glasses: For $200 or so, you can buy glasses to help you change time zones. The science behind them is legit in that the blue/green light they emit can help reset your clock. But sunlight works almost as well, and it’s free—just take a walk after you land.