Telechron alarm ClockIn the spirit of going into the new year well-rested, this is the time of the semester when we all need to get more sleep--as George addressed in last week’s open thread, “A good night’s sleep makes all the difference in the world, but getting one can be frustratingly elusive.” But for all that many of us are looking forward to the start of winter break next week, this can be a disappointing time for catching up on sleep. The nature of academic work makes holiday travel likely, whether for conferences or for family. Often, such travel begins even before grading and other end-of-semester chores have come to an end--and for me, the chance to really catch up on sleep often ends when that travel begins.

But technology for getting a good night’s sleep offers hope to the frequent traveler. High-tech sleep monitors like Zeo promise to monitor sleep, though they may mostly confirm the problem rather than solve it. Here are a few of my holiday travel essentials for keeping on track:

  • White noise apps. I used to haul a white noise machine when traveling to drown out loud hotel neighbors or buzzing appliances. Now, even most conference hotels boast music player compatible radios, and the built-in speakers on smartphones and other devices are sufficient to the task of white noise. A good white noise app should have enough variety in the sound to avoid being irritating, while never making itself too noticeable or intrusive. I’m a fan of the rain and ocean sounds on White Noise (for iPhone and Android). Some of these apps also include timers for setting alarms that are less jarring than the average alarm clock.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones. For shared rooms in a crowded house at a family reunion, or a night in a place with snoring relations or howling pets, noise-cancelling earbuds can be an expensive but worthwhile investment--especially when combined with white noise generators. Earbud-style headphones also offer hope for side sleepers who cannot comfortably manage with the bulky headphones of the past.
  • Bedtime calculators. Researchers have debated how much sleep we need each night, but in the end we are our own best arbiters of how much constitutes just enough. However, if sleep deprivation is inevitable, it’s still possible to optimize your sleeping schedule., SleepyTimer and other bedtime calculation apps offer “ideal” sleeping and waking times for different numbers of sleep cycles each night.
  • A pillow (or just a pillow case). Traveling by airplane has gone downhill fast over the last decade, and stuffing a pillow into already limited baggage space may not be a great idea. In those circumstances, a pillow case of your favorite materials can be a good stopgap for preventing allergic reactions and discomfort with hotel pillows. This can be even more important when visiting relatives, who may have pets, smokers or other sources of allergens that will inhabit any pillow in the house.
  • A notepad. Recording late-night brainstorms, easily forgotten to-do list chores and other important thoughts that contribute to insomnia can help clear the mind of work business before sleep. But using a digital device instead of old-fashion paper might do more harm than good, as some studies suggest the exposure to artificial light from screens in the hour before sleep can interfere with a restful night. That urge to check Twitter or surf the ‘net during insomnia might be doing more harm than good--I’ve started to keep my phone out of reach at night just to prevent one last look at my email.

What are your tools and tricks for going into the new year well-rested? How do you manage holiday travel? Let us know in the comments!