This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon(or other retailers) Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Enjoying quality sleep or even a nice nap can be difficult when you’re in a car. Some people find sleeping upright challenging, while others are snapped out of a doze every time the car makes its way over a speed bump.
Without the soothing familiarity of your bedroom, comfortable mattress, and nighttime sleep ritual, you may find it difficult to drift off.
However, that doesn’t mean that you need to abandon all hope of sleeping when you’re traveling by car. There are several tools and strategies you can use to help yourself sleep easier.
Wear the Right Clothing
If you can’t go on a drive in your favorite pajamas, then make do with carefully selected, comfortable clothes instead. Make sure you’re wearing loose, breathable fabrics – think cotton and linen are great options.
Clothing that’s too tight will cut off your blood circulation, which is a concern when you’re sleeping in a less than optimum position.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, preferably with laces so you can loosen them or even slip them off when you’re trying to sleep. If you’re wearing flip flops or sandals, carry along an extra pair of socks; wearing socks will help keep your feet warmer and your body temperature more regulated.
While you shouldn’t be wearing heavy clothing, carry a lightweight blanket that you can snuggle up with if you feel cold.
Block Out All Distractions
When you’re on the road, distractions come in all shapes and sizes. It may be something annoying, like a truck blaring its horn or something pleasant like a beautiful view. Whatever the form of distraction, it’s not going to help you as you try to fall asleep.
So, come equipped with a sleep mask and some noise-canceling devices. As you may be traveling in the day, opt for a heavy-duty sleep mask. The best sleep masks for blocking out light are made with silk or memory foam, which will adapt to the shape of your face and snugly cover your eyes. If the sun is particularly intense, wear a hat with your sleep mask for an extra layer of protection against the heat.
Once you protect yourself from visual distractions, try canceling out the auditory ones. Bring along some noise-canceling earplugs or wear earphones and play calming sleepscapes, which are designed to help relax your body.
Or, you can download an app that has soundtracks and exercises to help you sleep. Headspace, for instance, has soundtracks and stories designed to calm your mind down. Slumber has guided sleep meditations, while Noisli has a range of white noise tracks.
Design a Soothing Space
The human brain works in mysterious ways; most of our minds are trained to begin feeling drowsy as soon as we enter our bedroom because we associate it with sleep. You can’t bring your bedroom into the car, but you can bring in some elements to trigger drowsiness.
Use car fresheners with lavender or patchouli scents as they help activate sleep hormones. Or, if your traveling companions are not too keen on having the car flooded with scents, dab a little scented essential oil on your pulse points.
You should also bring along comfy pillows – one to sit on and one to put behind your back to try to replicate the feeling of sleeping on a mattress. Look out for sit up pillows that have been specially designed to support you when you sleep sitting up. Sit-up pillows will help you to hold a better posture and keep your muscles from cramping. If possible, check that the size of the sit-up pillow fits in with the car you’re traveling in – one that’s too big or small can defeat the purpose.
As much as possible, keep the car’s temperature stable at around 67-75F, which is an optimal sleep temperature. Try to avoid opening windows as this will impact the temperature as well as the air quality inside the car.
It also helps to use protective screens on your car windows to block out light and heat.
Deal With Motion Sickness
Some people find the motion of the car soothing and are happily rocked to sleep. Others, however, find that they get motion sick, especially when the vehicle is traveling along winding or mountain roads. Motion sickness can interfere with your attempts to fall asleep and leave you feeling groggy and irritable.
Chewing on ginger or ginger root can help counter motion sickness, but in extreme cases, it may be worth getting a motion sickness prescription from your doctor. One of the side effects of many medicines for motion sickness is grogginess.
Correct and Protect Your Posture
Once you do manage to drift off, your sleep quality can be impacted by how you’re sleeping or your posture. When sleeping upright, your neck is not protected and may get strained or sprained as you sleep.
To protect your neck, get yourself a comfortable travel pillow. U-shaped pillows made with memory foam are best as they wrap themselves snugly around your neck, giving it the support it needs. Some neck pillows come with a built-in massager – look out for one for some extra relaxation!
If you don’t have a neck pillow, don’t try to sleep sitting ramrod straight. Instead, find something solid to lean against and rest your head on – a window, or perhaps the shoulder of the person sitting next to you!
It’s essential to protect your neck, but don’t forget about optimizing the space for your legs! When you sleep lying down, your legs are typically spread straight. While you can’t replicate that in a car, you can place something, like a bag, under your legs to help raise them, so they’re at a more neutral angle to the rest of your body. This will also improve blood circulation and prevent you from getting leg cramps.
If the seat you’re sitting on has an armrest, make full use of it to rest your elbow. This will help your posture, but also allow your body to maneuver itself into more comfortable positions as you sleep.
The Front Seat Versus the Back Seat
If you’re getting the choice between the jump seat and the back seat, which one should you choose? Most people would think that the back seat is best, as it moves you further away from the driver’s seat – where most of the action and noise tends to come from. However, don’t underestimate the power of the front seat. Some of the advantages of sleeping on the front seat are:
- The front seats are more likely to recline, giving you the chance to be more flexible with your posture.
- The jump seat has more legroom, allowing you to stretch out and get more comfortable.
- You’re nearer to all the car’s controls and can adjust temperature and change the volume on the sound system.
- The front seat has a built-in sun visor.
Of course, when you are seated in the front seat, you’re more likely to get roped into driving tasks like paying a toll or controlling the navigation. Let the driver know you’re trying to sleep – it helps if you offer to take the wheel later on in the drive so that they can also have a rest.
On the other hand, if you don’t have a good rapport with the driver, then it may be better to head to the backseat, where you can enjoy more privacy.
Remember to Relax!
Even if you try all these strategies and buy all the equipment, you may not be able to sleep very well the first few times you try. Don’t get frustrated as that will be counterproductive! Instead, settle in, enjoy the scenery, and trust that everything you’ve set up will eventually help you drift off.
After a few trips, you will be a pro at sleeping while in the car and wake up at each destination feeling refreshed, recharged, and ready to explore!