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  • Mariam Daneshgar

Travel Anxiety and Insomnia: The Sleepless Journeys

A passport and a camera on top of the world map

Living with chronic insomnia is akin to navigating a labyrinth with no clear exit. For individuals with chronic insomnia and sleeping difficulties, the prospect of traveling can evoke a mixture of excitement and dread. While travel promises new experiences and adventures, it also presents a host of unique challenges for those grappling with sleep difficulties. The disruption of routines, the uncertainty of unfamiliar environments, and the pressure to enjoy the trip can all exacerbate the already tenuous relationship between insomnia and sleep.

In this blog, we'll delve into the complexities of traveling with chronic insomnia, exploring the cognitive and emotional challenges that arise when the idea of embarking on a journey comes to fruition. From understanding the cognitive aspect of insomnia to seeking support and implementing coping strategies, insights and guidance is offered to help individuals navigate the complexities of travel while managing their sleep difficulties.

Challenges of Traveling with Chronic Insomnia and Sleeping Difficulties

Traveling is an adventure, a chance to explore new destinations, cultures, and cuisines. However, if you are battling chronic insomnia, this adventure can quickly turn into a daunting ordeal. The very nature of travel introduces a myriad of challenges that can disrupt even the most carefully crafted sleep routines. Let's explore some of the key hurdles faced by individuals with chronic insomnia or other sleeping issues when hitting the road:

Disruption of Sleep Schedule due to Time Zone Changes

One of the most significant challenges for travellers with chronic insomnia is adjusting to new time zones. The abrupt shift in daylight and darkness can throw the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, out of sync, leading to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at the appropriate times. This disruption can leave travellers feeling groggy, disoriented, and struggling to function optimally during their trip.

Planning Travel Itineraries

One of the primary challenges for travellers with chronic insomnia is the difficulty in planning travel itineraries due to concerns about sleep accommodations. You may find yourself grappling with questions such as: Will the hotel room be quiet and conducive to sleep? Will the bed be comfortable enough to support restful sleep? Will there be access to amenities such as blackout curtains or white noise machines? These concerns can make it challenging to select accommodations that meet your specific sleep needs and requirements, leading to heightened anxiety and indecision during the planning process. The fear of ending up in an unsuitable sleeping environment can overshadow other aspects of the trip, making it difficult for travellers to fully enjoy the planning experience.

Unfamiliar Sleeping Environments (Hotels, Airplanes, etc.)

For individuals accustomed to the familiarity and comfort of their own bed, sleeping in unfamiliar environments can be particularly anxiety-inducing. Whether it's the stiff mattress of a hotel room, the cramped quarters of an airplane seat, needing to share a room with another traveler, or the ambient noise of a bustling city outside, these unfamiliar sleeping conditions can disrupt the delicate balance needed for restful sleep. Additionally, many with sleeping challenges have developed a particular sleeping routine or 'rituals', which may not be feasible while they travel. The prospect of not having access to their routine can lead to heightened anxiety and apprehension about sleep while away.

The lack of control over one's sleep environment can exacerbate feelings of vulnerability and discomfort, making it even more challenging to achieve restorative sleep. To combat this, travellers with chronic insomnia may rely on familiar sleep aids such as eye masks, earplugs, or white noise machines to replicate a more familiar and conducive sleep environment. However, even with these accommodations, adapting to new sleeping arrangements can remain a persistent challenge for individuals with chronic insomnia. The uncertainty of how their sleep patterns will fare in these new environments can lead individuals to second-guess their decision to travel or consider canceling their trip altogether. This anxiety can become all-consuming, overshadowing the excitement and anticipation that typically accompanies travel planning.

Overwhelm With Packing and Preparing for Various Sleep Scenarios

Another challenge faced by travellers with chronic insomnia is the overwhelm of packing and preparing for various sleep scenarios. In this anticipation, individuals may feel pressure to pack an array of sleep aids and comfort items to ensure they have everything they need to promote restful sleep during their trip. From eye masks and earplugs to travel-sized pillows and aromatherapy oils, the list of potential sleep aids can seem endless. However, the process of packing for every possible sleep scenario can be daunting and overwhelming, leading to indecision and procrastination. Individuals may find themselves agonizing over which items to bring and which to leave behind, fearing that they may overlook something essential and compromise their ability to sleep well during their travels.

Stress and Anxiety Associated with Travel Exacerbating Insomnia Symptoms

Traveling inherently entails a certain degree of stress and anxiety, from navigating crowded airports or having long drives to adhering to tight schedules. For individuals with chronic insomnia, this heightened stress response in itself can trigger or exacerbate sleep difficulties, leading to heightened levels of anxiety and frustration.

Fear of Sleep Disruptions in Unfamiliar Environments

One of the primary sources of anxiety for travellers with chronic insomnia is the fear of sleep disruptions in unfamiliar environments. Individuals with chronic insomnia may worry incessantly about their ability to fall asleep or stay asleep in these new environments, fearing that any deviation from their usual sleep routine will result in a night of restlessness and fatigue. This fear can become all-consuming, leading travellers to engage in hyper-vigilant behaviours such as obsessively checking their sleep aids or meticulously planning their sleep schedule in an attempt to regain a sense of control. However, this heightened sense of anxiety can lead to sleep disruptions, despite the environmental changes, creating a 'self-fulfilling' prophecy around sleep troubles.

Anticipation of the Negative Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Travel Experiences

Beyond the immediate challenges of sleep disruptions during travel, individuals with chronic insomnia may also harbour concerns about the negative impact of sleep deprivation on their overall travel experiences. The prospect of facing a day of sightseeing, exploring, or engaging in social activities on little to no sleep can be daunting, leading travellers to worry about their ability to function optimally and enjoy the trip to its fullest.

The fear of missing out on key experiences or letting down travel companions can intensify these concerns, heightening anxiety levels and creating a sense of pressure to perform despite their sleep difficulties. This anticipation of the potential consequences of sleep deprivation can cast a shadow over the entire travel experience, dampening the excitement and enthusiasm that typically accompanies a trip.

Negative Thinking Patterns Associated With Traveling With Chronic Insomnia

Traveling with chronic insomnia is not just about physically moving from one place to another; it's also a journey fraught with mental obstacles. Negative thinking patterns, deeply ingrained in the psyche of individuals with chronic insomnia, can significantly influence their perceptions and experiences of travel. Negative thinking patterns, such as catastrophizing and rumination, can cast a shadow over the entire travel experience, colouring individuals' perceptions of the journey before it even begins. These cognitive distortions skew reality, magnifying potential threats and setbacks while minimizing positive aspects of the trip. As a result, individuals may find themselves fixating on worst-case scenarios and anticipating difficulties, rather than approaching travel with a sense of excitement and anticipation.

Catastrophizing Potential Sleep Disruptions and Their Consequences

Catastrophizing is a common cognitive distortion experienced by individuals with chronic insomnia, characterized by the tendency to magnify the perceived severity of sleep disturbances and anticipate dire consequences. When it comes to traveling, catastrophizing can manifest in the form of excessive worry about potential sleep disruptions and their impact on the trip.

For example, individuals may envision worst-case scenarios such as being unable to sleep at all during their travels or experiencing debilitating fatigue that hinders their ability to enjoy the trip. This fear of the unknown can become all-consuming, leading individuals to maintain a constant state hyper-vigilance and engage in behaviours in an attempt to mitigate potential disruptions.

Rumination About Past Travel Experiences and Difficulties With Sleep

Rumination is another negative thinking pattern that can plague individuals with chronic insomnia, involving the repetitive and obsessive dwelling on past experiences and difficulties with sleep. When it comes to traveling, individuals may find themselves ruminating about previous trips where sleep was elusive, replaying these memories and anticipating similar difficulties in the future.

These rumination cycles can intensify feelings of anxiety and apprehension surrounding travel, as individuals worry about repeating past mistakes or encountering familiar sleep challenges. The inability to let go of these negative experiences can prevent individuals from fully embracing the present moment and approaching travel with a sense of openness and curiosity.

How To Cope with Travel Anxiety and Chronic insomnia and Sleeping Challenges

Managing Anxiety During Travel

Traveling with chronic insomnia can be daunting, but there are effective strategies to manage anxiety and enjoy your journey to the fullest. Here's how to navigate anxiety while on the road:

  1. Practical Techniques for Managing Anxiety While Traveling: Incorporate simple relaxation techniques into your travel routine to alleviate anxiety. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization can help calm your mind and reduce physical tension. Take a few moments each day to practice these techniques, especially during stressful travel moments like airport security or long flights.

  2. Utilizing Distraction and Engagement Strategies: Redirect your focus away from sleep-related worries by engaging in activities that capture your attention. Bring along a book, listen to music or podcasts, or immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of your destination. Engaging in enjoyable activities can distract your mind from anxious thoughts and enhance your travel experience.

  3. Incorporating Mindfulness Practices: Stay present and grounded by incorporating mindfulness practices into your travel routine. Take time to appreciate the beauty around you, whether it's the stunning scenery or the vibrant culture of your destination. Practice mindfulness techniques such as mindful breathing or mindful walking to anchor yourself in the present moment and cultivate a sense of peace amidst the challenges of travel.

Coping Strategies for Cognitive Challenges During Travel

Traveling with chronic insomnia can be mentally taxing, but there are effective coping strategies to navigate cognitive challenges and promote a more positive experience. Here are three key approaches:

  1. Cognitive Restructuring Techniques: Challenge negative thoughts about travel and sleep by reframing them. Recognize cognitive distortions like catastrophizing and replace them with more balanced perspectives. For example, instead of dwelling on potential sleep disruptions, focus on the resilience you've demonstrated in managing sleep difficulties in the past.

  2. Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Strategies: Reduce anxiety about sleep disruptions by practicing mindfulness and acceptance. Embrace the present moment and acknowledge that some aspects of travel are beyond your control. Acceptance-based strategies help you let go of worries about the future and cultivate a sense of calm amidst uncertainty.

  3. Positive Visualization Exercises: Cultivate a more optimistic outlook on travel experiences through positive visualization. Visualize yourself enjoying the journey, embracing new experiences, and feeling well-rested and rejuvenated. By focusing on positive outcomes, you can shift your mindset and approach travel with greater confidence and enthusiasm.

Seeking Support and Communication

Traveling with chronic insomnia can feel isolating, but seeking support and open communication can significantly alleviate the challenges.

  1. Importance of Open Communication with Travel Companions about Sleep Difficulties: It's crucial to communicate openly with your travel companions about your sleep difficulties. Let them know about your concerns and specific needs regarding sleep accommodations. By sharing your experiences and concerns, you can foster understanding and support from your companions, which can make the journey more manageable.

  2. Advocating for Sleep-Friendly Accommodations and Environments During Travel: Don't hesitate to advocate for sleep-friendly accommodations and environments during your travels. Whether it's requesting a quiet room, ensuring access to amenities like blackout curtains or white noise machines, or arranging for a comfortable sleeping arrangement, advocating for your sleep needs can significantly enhance your travel experience.

  3. Utilizing Support Networks to Alleviate Anxiety and Negative Thinking Patterns: Lean on your support networks, both during the planning stages and throughout your journey. Whether it's friends, family, or online communities, sharing your concerns and seeking advice can provide invaluable emotional support.

  4. Seeking Professional Support from a Behavioural Sleep Therapist: In addition to seeking support from friends and family, consider reaching out to a behavioural sleep therapist for professional assistance. A behavioural sleep therapist can help you address underlying issues contributing to your insomnia and develop personalized strategies to manage anxiety and improve sleep quality. Through Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) techniques, you can learn effective coping mechanisms to overcome sleep difficulties and enjoy a more restful travel experience. Don't hesitate to seek professional support to address your sleep and anxiety concerns effectively.

Traveling with chronic insomnia presents a unique set of challenges that can make the journey feel like an uphill battle. However, by recognizing these challenges and implementing effective coping strategies, you can navigate the complexities of travel with greater resilience and ease. By addressing cognitive challenges, practicing self-compassion, and seeking support, you can embark on your travels with confidence and create meaningful experiences that transcend the limitations of sleep difficulties. Remember, the journey may not always be smooth, but with the right mindset and support system, you can navigate the path ahead with grace and resilience.


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