Ever since I remember my conscious self, I’ve had trouble with sleeping. So much so that I spent my teens and twenties going from doctors and sleep medications to bouts of crippling insomnia resulting in days and weeks of feeling like a complete zombie – or, as the narrator in Fight Club observed, “a copy of a copy of a copy”. It has gotten better since, mostly thanks to sleep meditation techniques and a general goal of trying to be more zen about everything, but it hasn’t gone away completely, and I still have nights when I barely manage three or four hours of sleep.

You’d think being on the road and riding almost daily would eliminate the issue – after all, some days, you’re spending 8+ hours on the bike on some fairly technical terrain – but that hasn’t been the case. Even after completing a rally stage (something that’s a big physical challenge for me, a total rally noob), I’d sometimes remain wired until 2 or 3 AM, knowing full well I’ll need to get up at 6 again and line up at the start for the next day.

Insomnia is a tricky beast, and if you have trouble sleeping while on a long-distance journey, it can be plain dangerous. Add the fact that while on the road, you rarely know where you’ll be sleeping the next night – it may be a perfectly quiet wild camping spot, but it may also be a noisy hostel, a campsite suddenly invaded by a drunken backpacker fiesta, or a quiet countryside inn unexpectedly turned into a live music inferno due to the annual local wine festival – and sleep can quickly become an issue. So what’s an insomniac traveler to do?

The few obvious tricks like carrying earplugs and trying to choose quiet places to overnight aside, here’s what’s worked best for me so far:

  • Sleep visualization: imagining your whole body relax completely starting with the top of your head down to your toes, physically contracting and then relaxing all the muscles as you go along
  • Sleep meditation: YouTube has dozens of good sleep meditation guides and sleep talk-down videos. Just put the earbuds in, cover the screen, and listen while you drift off.
  • Focusing on breathing and nothing else: in essence, it’s a meditation in itself, but it can quieten the mind
  • Limiting campfire beers: more than two is rarely a good idea if you’re hoping to get some decent sleep
  • Counting down: probably similar to counting sheep, but the idea is to sort of hypnotize yourself into falling asleep when you say “one” after counting down from 100, 50, or 30

If you’re sleep-sensitive, what has worked for you while traveling? Share the tips in the comments below!

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