Getting enough quality sleep is a common struggle for all Americans, no matter their occupation. Add in frequent travel, and it can be even more challenging. For locum tenens clinicians, the ability to travel is a unique benefit, but it can require some adjusting. Fortunately, there are a number of tips you can follow to maintain healthy habits and feel ready to take on your assignments at your best.
Tweak Your Sleep Schedule
David Hamer, director of the Travel Clinic at Boston Medical Center and a professor of Global Health and Medicine at the Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine, suggests adjusting your bedtime before traveling to sync with local time. While his advice relates specifically to international travel, gradually moving up your bedtime when heading east and moving it back when heading west is still a sound approach when your locum tenens travels take you across time zones in the states. It may be tough to get to bed earlier or later than normal, but giving yourself a few days to acclimate will leave you feeling more refreshed when you get to your destination.
Force Yourself to Exercise…
Another tip from Hamer, exercising comes with a number of obvious benefits and can help you feel better while traveling. Making time for a workout — especially in your first days in a new location — can bring easier sleep, and there are many no-equipment exercises you can complete from a hotel room. (Search “hotel workouts” in YouTube, and you’ll find thousands of options.)
…But Stop Before Bedtime!
Dr. Alcibiades Rodriguez, assistant professor of Neurology at the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center—Sleep Center, warns against exercising before bed. Instead, try to exercise during the daytime, and avoid it three hours before you hit the hay. Exercising increases core body temperature and adrenaline, which can make it difficult to settle into sleep. If you do want to fit in some activity before sleep, steer towards light stretching or yoga.
Consider Your Evening Snacks Carefully
Like exercise, eating can increase your core body temperature and interfere with your ability to hit the hay. Dr. Rodriguez suggests avoiding heavy meals three to four hours before bed, though snacks can be OK, so long as they don’t include caffeine. (Sadly, that means no chocolate.) Dr. Meir Kryger, professor at Yale School of Medicine, adds that spicy foods can cause sleep arousals, and shifts from deeper to lighter, unstable sleep — so lay off the chili peppers with your nightly Netflix!
You might have heard that a glass of milk can be helpful, but there’s a lack of supporting research and it can impact individuals differently. Caffeine-free teas such as chamomile, on the other hand, can have a relaxing effect. Alcohol is a sedative but should be approached with caution, as it can negatively impact your sleep and, like milk, its effects will depend on your body.
Melatonin Can Offer Relief
Taken at the right time and dose, melatonin can offer an effective aid to counter jet lag or other shifts in sleep schedules. While it should not be used for insomnia (and even physicians and advanced practitioners should consult their own doctor before adding any medication or supplement), experts agree that a low-dose of melatonin can have a positive impact on circadian rhythm disorders including shift work disorders.
If you’re struggling with sleep in your locum tenens travels, we hope you can find relief from some of these tips. Contact us if you have any other tips to share. And explore our open positions for Physicians and Advanced Practice Providers to find your next travel destination, or something close to home!