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Looking for the best sleep mask for travel? Read this to know what factors to consider. Plus, tips for dealing with jet lag or the first night effect.
Traveling is a wonderful and rewarding experience. Unfortunately, it can also come with its own set of sleep problems. Namely, jet lag and the first-night effect. Overall, these lead to sleeplessness and next-day fatigue, to name a few.
Fear not though. You don't have to resign yourself to a host of sleep issues when you're on the move. An excellent sleep mask for travel is an effective way to get the rest you need while on the go.
In this blog post, we'll run through what makes the best sleep mask for travel. We’ll also discuss travel-related sleep issues in detail. Plus, tips on how to get good-quality shut eye while traveling.
Here’s what you’re in for:
What is a Sleep Mask?
Put simply, a sleep mask is a device worn to block out light and improve the quality of your sleep. It's typically made from fabric, foam, or plastic. And if you're in the market for one, you have plenty of options.
There are no-nonsense basic models to better ones with features like adjustable straps, breathable fabrics and even built-in headphones. But take note that the best sleep mask for travel should have a superior light-blocking feature, providing complete darkness.
Now you might wonder why darkness plays such a key role in sleep. Light in the evening, apart from its irritating glare, signals your brain to stay up and alert. It triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which promotes wakefulness.
On the other hand, darkness tells your body that it’s time to wind down. It also prompts your brain to start producing melatonin, the sleep hormone. Complete darkness helps improve sleep quality because it helps you drift off faster and sleep longer with fewer awakenings.
Benefits of Using a Sleep Mask for Travel
Okay, so we’ve identified the key benefit of a sleep mask, which is blocking light. But how does that help while you’re traveling?
Now unless you’re traveling first class, privacy is hard to come by. And even then you’re not assured of zero distractions by fellow passengers or personnel. A sleep mask blocks out distractions from movement while you’re grabbing zzzs.
Also, not every trip is a long haul. What if you need to catch a restorative nap? Kind of hard to do that with lights and activity happening around you, agree?
The best sleep mask for travel should block these out. Throw in earplugs and your chances of a decent snooze skyrocket. The best sleep mask for travel helps create an environment that's conducive to getting good quality sleep. Whether it's for work or play, waking up refreshed and energized helps you to make the most of your time away from home.
💡 Key Takeaway: Sleep masks can help improve sleep quality by blocking out light and distractions. They’re especially helpful during travel where you have less control over your environment and privacy.
Factors That Make It Hard to Sleep During Travel
In this section, we nail down the factors that can make sleeping while traveling difficult.
Changes to Your Environment
Let’s face it. Whether you're taking the bus, train, or plane, your journey is likely to be far from cozy. Trying to rest while upright just isn't natural. Even if you're traveling in the lap of luxury, nothing beats your own bed.
Also, if you're flying, note that airplane air is pressurized. This means you're at an altitude where you're getting less oxygen than when on solid ground. Drowsy, dizzy and exhausted, yes. But getting deep and restful sleep—no easy feat.
Seeing light really prevents quality zzzs. Dimming the lights isn't the same as being in total darkness. And this is where the best sleep mask for travel comes handy.
Travel-related Stress and Anxiety
In general, stress and anxiety can make it harder to drift off and stay asleep, leading to frequent awakenings.
And when it comes to travel, preparing for a trip is no joke. There are a ton of things that could cause potential stress. From booking the flight, fixing your itinerary, packing and ensuring you get to the airport on time.
There’s also what you call aerophobia, a fear of flying which could lead to more anxiety. The same goes for impending motion sickness. Oh, and let’s not forget clogged ears.
Disturbed Sleep Patterns
Now before we dive into this one, let’s talk about circadian rhythms. Think of these as 24-hour cycles made by your internal body clock and influenced by light (or the absence of it). They pretty much control your body functions, including your sleep-wake cycle.
Your sleep-wake cycle is affected when traveling a long distance. This is because you are crossing different time zones, which disrupts your internal body clock. Additionally, when you eat has an impact on this schedule.
Eating at the same time each day helps regulate your sleep-wake pattern. Airplanes usually serve meals following the time zone of the point of departure. Disrupting your eating schedule could further mess up your body clock when you touch down.
These disturbed schedules contribute to the most common travel-related sleep issue, jet lag.
What is Jet Lag?
According to Cleveland Clinic, jet lag is a form of circadian rhythm disorder that is characterized by sleep issues like insomnia. These occur after a person moves between two or more time zones quickly, typically via airplane(1).
When you fly to a new time zone, your body's internal clock needs time to adapt to a new sleep and wake cycle.
Symptoms of Jet Lag
So, how do you know if you have jet lag? Apart from insomnia, extreme sleepiness and waking up unusually early, here are the symptoms:
A lack of mental clarity and energy
Indigestion, constipation or diarrhea
Exhaustion during the day
More likely to catch an infection
Luckily, jet lag is temporary. And with some planning and effort, you’ll eventually get over it.
How to Avoid Getting Jet Lag
There are a couple of measures you can take to avoid or at the very least, lessen the effects of jet lag.
First, if your schedule permits arrive a few days earlier. This will give your body enough time to adjust.
Next, is to slowly adjust your schedule before you leave. John Hopkins Medicine suggests doing this three days before your trip. Sleep an hour later or earlier according to what direction you’re heading. On day two, add two hours and so forth(2).
Sleep an hour earlier if you’re flying east and later if you’re flying west. You can also consult with your doctor on how to best approach this. Or use a jet lag app like Timeshifter.
Third, get lots of good sleep before you leave. Stay hydrated, too. But not on booze or caffeine. Being sleep-deprived and dehydrated can worsen the effects of jet lag.
Fourth is to stick to the schedule at your destination. Set your watch to sync with the new time before you take off. Sleep and eat at the right time.
Fifth, use your sleep kit (eye mask and earplugs) to block out light and noise. Sleep on the plane, according to when nighttime is at your destination.
And finally, time your light exposure. Exposing yourself to sunlight at the right time can help you adjust to a new sleep-wake cycle. Mayo Clinic recommends light in the evening when you’ve traveled west. And morning light exposure after traveling east.
But if you’ve crossed more than eight time zones, things are a bit different. To the east, hide from morning light and soak in some afternoon rays. And to the west, avoid sunlight a couple of hours before the sun sets(3). Do this for a couple of days.
What to Do When You Have Jet Lag
To beat jet lag, it's essential to get your internal body clock in sync with your destination's time zone. And a big part of that is managing your sleep schedule. While light therapy and natural sleep supplements can help, it's all about timing.
Calculating the right schedule can be intimidating, but don't worry. Prior to travel, ask your doctor for a contingency plan because it may even help prevent jet lag. There are also apps to assist. The Points Guy also lists Timeshifter, plus Insight Timer among their top picks(4).
Choosing the best sleep mask along with other sleep accessories is essential. These can help lessen distractions when trying to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings.
💡 Key Takeaway: Jet lag is caused by traveling across multiple time zones too quickly, resulting in disruptions to your sleep-wake cycle. Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty sleeping or staying asleep and daytime exhaustion, to name a few. To combat jet lag while traveling it’s important to sync your internal clock with your destination’s time zone.
What is the First Night Effect?
This travel-related sleep phenomenon supposedly lasts as long as its name says it does. However, according to Science Direct, it may last longer(5).
The first night effect is when you arrive at your destination and are unable to sleep on your first night away from home. The reason is that when you're sleeping in a strange place, the left side of your brain stays awake while the right side goes to sleep.
This happens because your brain's survival instincts kick in when you're in an unfamiliar environment. It keeps its left side on alert in case of any danger.
You may also find yourself more aware of your environment when you're in unfamiliar territory. Say, you normally live in a quiet area and now you're in a noisy one. This will likely draw your attention and disturb your sleep.
What to Do When You Have First Night Effect
When you arrive at your destination, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the area. If you’re concerned about security, find out what measures your accommodation has in place, such as a fire exit or sprinkler system.
Also, bring something from home that will make you feel more comfortable. Your own blanket or pillow can make the bedroom a more familiar place.
And because you’re hyper-alert, it’s a good idea to use accessories like earplugs and the best sleep mask for travel. These block out distractions and will help you settle down faster.
💡 Key Takeaway: First night effect is when you’re unable to sleep on your first night away from home. And because everything is unfamiliar, your survival instinct is triggered keeping part of your brain alert. Familiarizing yourself with the new environment, bringing your own pillow or blanket, and using the right sleep accessories can help you get the rest you need.
What to Look for in the Best Sleep Mask for Travel
When it comes to finding the best sleep mask for travel, there are a few key factors you should consider.
Comfort and Fit
These are key to choosing the best sleep mask for travel. You want something that won’t cause discomfort or irritate your skin while you’re sleeping. Look for masks made of soft materials and an adjustable head strap to ensure a custom fit.
As we mentioned earlier, how much it blocks out light is extremely important. Especially if you’re traveling to a brightly lit, bustling city or staying in a room with lots of natural light. The best sleep mask for travel is one that offers 100% blackout.
Finally, breathability and temperature regulation are two other features to look for in a sleep mask. Long flights or train rides often have limited air conditioning or you may be traveling to a place with a hot and humid climate.
The best sleep mask for travel should be made from lightweight fabrics for good airflow.
Our Version of the Best Sleep Mask for Travel
If you’re looking for the best sleep mask for travel, consider Manta Sleep Mask PRO. We’re confident that this mask ticks all boxes for comfort, fit, breathability and light-blocking.
Our premium eye mask comes with detachable C-shaped eye cups and an infinitely adjustable head strap. It also offers 100% blackout.
Position the cups anywhere within the strap’s interior, according to your eye placement. The strap is secured by a micro hook and loop closure that won’t snag your hair.
In case you want to explore other best sleep mask options, we have a couple that offer 100% blackout.
Manta Sleep Mask (the original)
Our eye cups and straps are swappable. If you already own one of our sleep masks, you can experiment with our accessories sold separately.
Additional Accessories for Better Sleep During Travel
It can be hard to get the good night's sleep you crave if you're on the road or in the air. Thankfully, there are plenty of items, including a travel pillow, that can help you get restful shuteye while traveling.
Ear Plugs or Noise-Canceling Headphones
If you're struggling to sleep when traveling, it's likely because of noise from your environment. Earplugs and noise-canceling headphones can prevent sounds from disrupting your sleep.
They're super helpful if you're stuck in a hotel with thin walls, or in noisy train or airplane cabins.
Try Manta Earplugs. They come in 10 pairs a set and are made from comfy foam.
White Noise Machines or Sleep Mask Headphones
White noise machines can give you some peace and quiet by blocking out annoying noises. Choose one that’s easy to pack. Simply place it on your night table wherever you are.
Now if you want to enjoy white noise while in transit, a sleep mask with headphones comes in handy. It’s simply a sleep mask that has built-in speakers. Choose one that uses Bluetooth technology so you can use it on an airplane.
Essential oils are a centuries-old natural way to promote relaxation and put you in the mood for sleep. They’re easy to pack in your hand carry. Apply them with your fingertips or a portable diffuser when you get to your hotel room.
By the way, did you know there are patches infused with essential oils that you can attach to your sleep mask? Check out Manta Aroma Dots.
💡 Key Takeaway: Traveling can disrupt your sleep, but there are accessories that can help you get better rest. Aside from the best sleep mask for travel, consider earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, white noise machines and essential oils to create a calming environment conducive to sleep.
Choosing the best sleep mask for travel should take into account comfort, fit and light-blocking capabilities. It should be lightweight and easy to carry.
If you want to guarantee a decent night's rest, think about packing earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, a white noise machine or a sleep mask with headphones and essential oils.
The right combination of products and preparation will ensure you a good night’s sleep. Ultimately, this is what you need to feel refreshed and energized—ready to take on what your trip has to offer.
(1) “Jet Lag.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12781-jet-lag. Accessed 16 February 2023.
(2) “6 Tips for Better Sleep When You Travel.” John Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/6-tips-for-better-sleep-when-you-travel. Accessed 23 February 2023.
(3) “Jet lag disorder.” Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/jet-lag/symptoms-causes/syc-20374027. Accessed 23 February 2023.
(4) “5 apps to help you beat jet lag.” The Points Guy, thepointsguy.com/guide/apps-to-fight-jet-lag/. Accessed 16 February 2023.
(5) “The first-night effect may last more than one night” Science Direct, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002239560100019X. Accessed 17 February 2023.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website or provided through our blog, e-mails, or programs is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment that can be provided by your healthcare professionals.