The challenges of holiday travel with a sleep disorder


By SCOTT LAIRD | TravelPulse | Published: December 26, 2019

Traveling during the holidays can be stressful, and it can be even more stressful for travelers who have a sleep disorder.

It’s estimated that between 50 million and 70 million Americans are living with sleep disorders. Sleep disorders interfere with natural sleep patterns (called circadian rhythms) and can include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and somnambulism, or sleepwalking.

A recent study of 1,000 travelers found that 53% of people with a sleep disorder planned to travel this holiday season, yet 22% of those say they try to avoid overnight trips because of their sleep disorder. Concerns about overnight trips ranged from traveling with assistive devices for sleep disorders, such as CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machines, to oversleeping and being tired or keeping others awake.

One traveler who uses a CPAP machine to sleep restfully noted, “I had a (hotel room attendant) leave a note asking that I not use drugs while I was staying at the hotel. The note was left next to my CPAP, with an arrow pointing to my CPAP machine.”

Others who travel with CPAPs noted the difficulty of traveling with them. One in 10 survey respondents who self-identified as having a sleep disorder reported that they had missed a flight because their CPAP or other assistive device was held up at the security checkpoint.

There were also some puzzling inconsistencies in respondents’ holiday lodging plans: 47.2% of travelers with a sleep disorder said they would avoid staying at a friend or family member’s house due to their sleep disorder, but for the upcoming holiday, travelers with sleep disorders reported they were just as likely to stay with family (65.5% of travelers with sleep disorders vs. 65.6% of travelers without sleep disorders), more likely to stay with friends (10.4% vs. 8.2%) and slightly less likely to stay in a hotel (17.8% vs. 19.9%).

Fear of missing planned activities and transportation was another major concern among survey respondents, with 71.3% of respondents with sleep disorders citing staying up too late and being tired the next day as a top challenge.

Some reported that they had previously overslept and missed planned events. One traveler with insomnia noted, “I ended up missing my flight and having to stay an extra night, and then missed it again. This was all because I couldn’t sleep most of the night, and when I finally did sleep, I overslept.”


Here are a few tips for travelers with sleep disorders who are anticipating travel during the holiday season:

Identify your CPAP: U.S. law requires air carriers to transport CPAP machines and other assistive devices outside of the normal carry-on limits for passengers. If you’re told you have too many carry-on bags and your CPAP is the excess, simply identify it as a CPAP, and it won’t count toward the limit.

Travel with an extension cord: Most hotels will provide extension cords or power strips, but when staying elsewhere, outlets may not always be convenient. A power strip can be a convenience when traveling with a CPAP.

Two words: Melatonin gummies: Melatonin is the natural hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, and melatonin supplements can be used as a sleep aid. Melatonin is available in gummy or pill form over the counter in the United States and Canada.

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