To Nap or Sleep in Airport? Why Airport Conditions Favor Naps

Finding sleep in airports requires careful planning and investing in the right gear to create an optimal sleep environment. Creating a conducive sleep space amidst the hustle and bustle of an airport involves managing various ambient factors such as noise, temperature, and lighting, each playing a crucial role in achieving quality rest.

Research shows that noise can disrupt sleep architecture and increase the likelihood of awakenings, while inappropriate light levels can interfere with circadian rhythms and melatonin production.

Maintaining an optimal sleep temperature is also vital, as both excessive heat and cold can lead to fragmented sleep and reduced efficiency. By understanding and managing these factors through strategic use of sleep aids such as earplugs, sleep masks, and portable bedding, travelers can significantly enhance their chances of restful sleep even in challenging airport environments.

Check out our 21 tips to sleep in Airports.

Sleep vs. Nap: An Brief Summary

Sleep

Definition:

Sleep is a natural state of rest characterized by a reduction in voluntary body movement, decreased reaction to external stimuli, and complex changes in the body’s physiological processes. It is essential for overall health and well-being, facilitating physical recovery, cognitive function, and emotional stability.

Phases:

Sleep occurs in cycles, typically lasting 90 minutes, and consists of two main phases: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep includes stages of light sleep (N1 and N2) and deep sleep (N3), while REM sleep is associated with dreaming and brain activity similar to wakefulness.

Benefits:

  • Physical Health: Promotes tissue repair, muscle growth, and immune function.
  • Cognitive Function: Enhances memory consolidation, learning, and problem-solving skills.
  • Emotional Stability: Regulates mood and reduces stress.

Duration: The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults, though individual needs may vary based on age, lifestyle, and health conditions​ (Sleep Foundation)​​ (MDPI)​.

Nap

Definition:

A nap is a short period of sleep, typically taken during the day, that can supplement nighttime sleep. Naps are usually shorter than a full sleep cycle and are intended to provide a quick boost in alertness and energy.

Types of Naps:

  • Power Nap: Lasts about 10-20 minutes and primarily involves light NREM sleep. Ideal for a quick refresh without causing sleep inertia.
  • Long Nap: Can last 60-90 minutes and may include both NREM and REM sleep stages. This type of nap can enhance memory and creativity but might cause sleep inertia upon waking.

Benefits:

  • Increased Alertness: Short naps can improve cognitive performance, reaction times, and alertness.
  • Enhanced Mood: Naps can reduce feelings of fatigue and improve mood.
  • Performance Boost: Useful for improving learning and memory consolidation, especially when sleep-deprived.

Duration:

Optimal nap length varies depending on the intended benefits. Power naps of 10-20 minutes are generally recommended to avoid grogginess, while longer naps can be beneficial for deeper restorative effects but may require more time to fully wake up and regain alertness​ (Sleep Foundation)​​ (Sleepopolis)​.

Conclusion

While both sleep and naps are essential for maintaining health and cognitive function, they serve different purposes. Sleep is a prolonged state necessary for comprehensive physical and mental recovery, whereas naps are shorter, targeted breaks that can enhance alertness and performance. Understanding the distinct roles and benefits of each can help individuals optimize their rest and productivity throughout the day.

How to Choose a Suitable Sleep or Nap Options in Airports:

Navigating the challenges of sleeping in airports requires understanding the differences between sleep and naps, and knowing which option is best suited for your circumstances. Here is an expert guide to help you make the best decision for getting restful sleep in an airport environment.

Sleep vs. Nap: Understanding the Basics

Sleep is a prolonged period of rest necessary for physical recovery and cognitive function, typically lasting 7-9 hours for adults. It involves multiple sleep cycles, including deep NREM sleep and REM sleep, which are crucial for overall health.

Naps are shorter periods of sleep taken during the day to supplement nighttime rest. They are designed to provide a quick boost in alertness and energy. Naps can be categorized into:

  • Power Naps (10-20 minutes): Ideal for a quick refresh without causing sleep inertia.
  • Longer Naps (60-90 minutes): Can include both NREM and REM sleep stages, beneficial for memory and creativity but may cause grogginess upon waking.

When to Choose a Nap in an Airport

Short Layovers (1-3 hours):

  • Power Nap (10-20 minutes): Ideal for a short layover. It can enhance alertness and reduce fatigue without making you groggy when you wake up. Find a quiet spot, use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, and a sleep mask to maximize rest.
    • Supporting Evidence: Power naps improve cognitive performance and reduce stress​ (Sleep Foundation)​​ (MDPI)​.

Moderate Layovers (3-5 hours):

  • Long Nap (60-90 minutes): Suitable if you have a longer layover. This nap can help with deeper restorative effects, including memory consolidation and creativity. Ensure you have a comfortable spot and possibly a travel pillow and blanket.
    • Supporting Evidence: Longer naps can provide significant cognitive benefits but might lead to sleep inertia if not timed properly​ (Sleepopolis)​.

When to Choose Full Sleep in an Airport

Overnight Layovers (6+ hours):

  • Full Sleep Cycle (6-8 hours): If you have an overnight layover, aim for a full sleep cycle. This is essential for complete physical and mental recovery. Utilize airport lounges or designated sleep areas with reclining chairs, or consider using sleep pods if available.
    • Supporting Evidence: Full sleep cycles are necessary for comprehensive physical and mental health benefits​ (Sleep Foundation)​​ (MDPI)​.

4 Reasons Naps are Easier to Get than Sleep in Airports:

Studies indicate that naps are generally easier to achieve in airports compared to full sleep. This is due to high noise levels, constant lighting, temperature variations, and practical constraints of layovers. By focusing on short, restorative naps, you can better manage their rest in these challenging environments.

Here are the factors that contribute to why you are more likely to find napping easier than getting full sleep when on a layover:

Noise and Interruptions

Noise Levels: Airports are noisy environments with constant announcements, people moving around, and operational sounds. This makes it challenging to maintain uninterrupted sleep for extended periods. Short naps, which are less affected by noise, are easier to manage in such settings.

  • Supporting Evidence: Research shows that environmental noise significantly disrupts sleep architecture, making it difficult to achieve deep, restorative sleep (Basner et al., 2019)​ (Sleep Foundation)​.

Lighting

Lighting Conditions: Airports are well-lit areas with artificial lighting designed to maintain visibility and security. This constant light exposure can interfere with circadian rhythms and melatonin production, making it harder to fall and stay asleep for long durations.

  • Supporting Evidence: Exposure to bright lighting can suppress melatonin production, leading to difficulties in initiating and maintaining sleep (Sleep Foundation, 2021)​ (Cleveland Clinic)​.

Temperature

Temperature Variations: Airports can be cold due to air conditioning, which might make prolonged sleep uncomfortable without adequate preparation (e.g., blankets or warm clothing). Naps, which require shorter durations of rest, are more feasible in such conditions.

  • Supporting Evidence: Maintaining an optimal temperature is critical for sleep quality, and temperature regulation challenges in airports often disrupt prolonged sleep (Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 2022)​ (BioMed Central)​.

Practicality and Convenience

Flexibility: Naps are more practical in the airport setting due to their shorter duration. Travelers can easily fit a nap into layover periods without worrying about missing flights or other important activities.

  • Supporting Evidence: Short naps are shown to be effective in improving alertness and reducing fatigue, making them a suitable option for travelers with limited time (Sleep Advisor, 2024)​ (Sleep Advisor)​.

Practical Tips for Airport Sleep and Naps

  1. Noise Management: Use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to block out ambient noise. White noise apps can also help create a more consistent sound environment.
    • Supporting Evidence: Reducing noise exposure significantly improves sleep quality​ (Sleep Advisor)​.
  2. Light Control: Wear a sleep mask to block out bright lights, which can disrupt melatonin production and affect sleep quality.
    • Supporting Evidence: Managing light exposure is crucial for maintaining circadian rhythms and promoting sleep​ (Cleveland Clinic)​.
  3. Temperature Regulation: Airports can be cold, so bring a travel blanket or wear layers to stay warm.
    • Supporting Evidence: Proper temperature regulation is essential for maintaining sleep quality​ (BioMed Central)​​ (Sleepopolis)​.
  4. Comfort: Use travel pillows and blankets to create a more comfortable sleeping environment. Look for quiet zones or designated sleeping areas within the airport.
    • Supporting Evidence: Comfort is a critical factor in achieving quality sleep, especially in challenging environments​ (Sleep Foundation)​.

Conclusion

Choosing between a nap or full sleep in an airport depends on your layover duration and personal needs. Short naps are beneficial for quick refreshes, while longer naps and full sleep cycles provide deeper restorative benefits. By managing noise, light, and temperature, and ensuring comfort, you can significantly improve your chances of getting restful sleep in an airport.

By understanding the nuances of sleep and naps and applying these practical strategies, travelers can optimize their rest, enhancing their overall travel experience and well-being.

Studies on Noise and Impact on Sleep:

Here is a list of studies providing evidence that noise in public places, such as airports, can impact or lead to poor sleep quality:

  1. “Aircraft Noise and Sleep Disturbance: A Review” – This comprehensive review explores how aircraft noise affects sleep, summarizing findings from multiple studies. The review indicates that exposure to high levels of aircraft noise is consistently associated with increased awakenings and poor sleep quality. It emphasizes the need for noise mitigation strategies in and around airports.
  2. “Night-time Aircraft Noise Exposure and Children’s Sleep Quality and Well-being” – This study investigates the effects of nighttime aircraft noise on children living near airports. The findings reveal that higher noise levels are linked to more sleep disturbances, including difficulties in falling asleep and frequent awakenings, leading to daytime sleepiness and decreased well-being.
  3. “The Influence of Road Traffic Noise on Polysomnographically Assessed Sleep Quality” – Although focused on road traffic, this study provides valuable insights into how environmental noise impacts sleep. The research shows that higher noise levels correlate with reduced sleep efficiency, increased wake time after sleep onset, and more frequent shifts between sleep stages.
  4. “Effects of Nocturnal Transportation Noise on Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” – This meta-analysis synthesizes data from various studies on transportation noise, including aircraft, road, and rail noise. The results indicate that all forms of transportation noise significantly disturb sleep, leading to fragmented sleep patterns and reduced overall sleep quality.
  5. “The Impact of Noise on Sleep and Health” – This article reviews the broader implications of noise pollution on sleep and health. It highlights the adverse effects of environmental noise on sleep architecture, particularly the increased occurrence of awakenings and reduced time spent in restorative sleep stages, ultimately affecting health outcomes.
  6. “Sleep Disturbance Due to Environmental Noise: A Proposed Standard” – This paper discusses the development of standardized criteria for assessing noise-induced sleep disturbances. It presents evidence that nighttime noise, especially from transportation sources, significantly impacts sleep continuity and quality, proposing guidelines to minimize these effects.

These studies collectively underscore the significant impact of noise in public places, including airports, on sleep quality, reinforcing the importance of noise mitigation efforts to improve sleep and overall health.

Research on Bright Lighting and Impact on Sleep:

Bright lighting in places such as airport terminals can significantly impact sleep quality, primarily by disrupting circadian rhythms and reducing melatonin production. Here are some key findings from studies on this topic:

  1. Circadian Rhythms and Light Exposure: Light is a critical factor in regulating circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock that dictates sleep-wake cycles. Exposure to light at inappropriate times can misalign circadian rhythms, leading to difficulties falling asleep, fragmented sleep, and reduced sleep quality. This effect is particularly pronounced with exposure to blue light, which is emitted by many artificial light sources like LED lights and screens (Sleep Foundation, 2021)​ (Sleep Foundation)​​ (Sleep Foundation)​.
  2. Melatonin Suppression: Light exposure, especially in the blue spectrum, suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone essential for sleep regulation. Lower melatonin levels can delay sleep onset and reduce sleep efficiency, resulting in shorter and less restorative sleep periods. This suppression is one reason why exposure to artificial light in environments like airport terminals can lead to poor sleep quality (Nature, 2015)​ (Nature)​​ (Sleep Advisor)​.
  3. Impact of Bright Lighting on Sleep Cycles: Continuous or intermittent exposure to bright light can impair transitions between different stages of sleep. Normally, people cycle through various sleep stages, including light and deep sleep, several times a night. Bright light exposure can cause awakenings between these cycles, making sleep more fragmented and less restorative (Sleep Advisor, 2024)​ (Sleep Advisor)​.
  4. Practical Implications: For those trying to sleep in airport terminals, these findings suggest the importance of mitigating light exposure. Using sleep masks, seeking out darker and quieter areas, and avoiding screens before attempting to sleep can help maintain better sleep quality despite the challenging environment (Cleveland Clinic, 2024)​ (Cleveland Clinic)​.

Overall, reducing exposure to bright light, particularly blue light, and creating a darker sleep environment can significantly improve sleep quality in places like airport terminals. These strategies align with broader research on light’s impact on sleep and circadian rhythms.

Research on Temperature and its Impact on Sleep:

Cold temperatures in environments such as airport terminals can significantly impact sleep quality.

Cold exposure primarily affects the later stages of sleep, particularly REM sleep, due to suppression of the thermoregulatory response.

Studies indicate that appropriate use of clothing and bed covers can mitigate these effects, maintaining a stable bed climate temperature and preventing significant disruptions in sleep stages, even in temperatures ranging from 3°C to 23°C.

However, cold exposure significantly alters cardiac autonomic activity during sleep, increasing parasympathetic activity during stage 2 and SWS, which can elevate cardiovascular stress. These findings underscore the importance of maintaining a bedroom temperature above 10°C during winter to prevent cardiovascular stress and ensure restful sleep.

Here are some key findings from studies on this topic:

  1. Thermoregulation and Sleep Quality: Thermoregulation plays a crucial role in maintaining sleep quality. When the ambient temperature is too cold, it can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature, leading to increased wakefulness and less restorative sleep. Cold environments can cause vasoconstriction, where blood vessels narrow to preserve heat, which can make falling and staying asleep more difficult (Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 2022).
  2. Optimal Sleep Temperatures: Studies suggest that the ideal temperature for sleep is around 65°F (18.3°C). Temperatures significantly below this range can lead to discomfort, causing individuals to wake up frequently throughout the night. For example, one study found that individuals who felt their sleeping environment was too cold reported worse sleep quality compared to those who were comfortable (Sleepopolis, 2024).
  3. Impact on Sleep Stages: Cold temperatures can affect the duration and quality of different sleep stages. Exposure to cold can decrease the amount of time spent in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and slow-wave sleep (SWS), which are essential for cognitive function, memory consolidation, and overall restfulness. These disruptions can lead to feeling less rested and more fatigued during the day (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2022).
  4. Recommendations for Travelers: To mitigate the effects of cold temperatures in airport terminals, travelers are advised to wear warm clothing, use blankets, and consider portable heat sources like heated blankets or hand warmers. Finding a warmer, more sheltered spot within the terminal can also help improve sleep quality. Using layers that can be added or removed as needed can help maintain a comfortable body temperature throughout the night (Sleep Foundation, 2021).

By understanding the impact of cold temperatures on sleep and taking proactive steps to manage your sleeping environment, travelers can improve their chances of getting better rest, even in less-than-ideal conditions.

How Modern Innovative Sleep Technologies Are Addressing Common Sleep Challenges

Airports are notorious for being challenging environments for sleep due to high noise levels, constant lighting, temperature variations, and practical constraints such as limited time and space. Modern innovative sleep technologies, particularly sleep pods, are effectively addressing these issues, making it easier for travelers to get restful sleep. Here are the expert details on how these technologies are solving common sleep problems in airports:

1. Noise Reduction

Sleep Pods:

  • Design and Features: Sleep pods are designed with soundproofing materials that significantly reduce ambient noise. This creates a quiet, serene environment conducive to sleep, even in busy airport terminals.
  • Supporting Evidence: Studies have shown that reducing environmental noise improves sleep quality and reduces the likelihood of sleep disruptions (Basner et al., 2019)​

2. Controlled Lighting

Sleep Pods:

  • Integrated Lighting Control: Many sleep pods such as Minute Suites come equipped with adjustable lighting systems that allow users to dim the lights to their preference, mimicking natural sleep environments and promoting melatonin production.
  • Supporting Evidence: Proper lighting control is essential for maintaining circadian rhythms and enhancing sleep quality (Sleep Foundation, 2021)​ (Cleveland Clinic)​.

3. Temperature Regulation

Sleep Pods:

  • Climate Control Features: Advanced sleep pods such as Yotel and Minute Suites offer climate control settings, enabling users to adjust the temperature within the pod to their comfort level. This helps in maintaining an optimal sleep environment despite the often cold and variable temperatures of airport terminals.
  • Supporting Evidence: Maintaining an optimal sleep temperature is critical for sleep efficiency and overall comfort (Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 2022)​ (BioMed Central)​.

4. Privacy and Comfort

Sleep Pods:

  • Private Space: Sleep pods provide a private, enclosed space that shields users from the hustle and bustle of the airport. This privacy is crucial for reducing stress and creating a sense of security, which is beneficial for sleep.
  • Comfort Enhancements: Equipped with comfortable bedding, pillows, and sometimes even massage functions, sleep pods are designed to enhance physical comfort and promote deeper rest.
  • Supporting Evidence: Creating a comfortable and private sleeping environment significantly improves sleep quality and reduces anxiety (GoSleep, 2021)​ (Sleep Foundation)​.

5. Convenience and Accessibility

Sleep Pods:

  • On-Demand Access: Sleep pods can be rented on an hourly basis, providing flexibility for travelers with varying layover times. This on-demand access makes it convenient for travelers to get rest without the need to leave the airport.
  • Easy Booking and Use: Many sleep pod providers offer easy online booking and user-friendly interfaces, making it simple for travelers to access and use the pods efficiently.
  • Supporting Evidence: The flexibility and convenience of sleep pods cater to the practical needs of travelers, enhancing their overall travel experience and well-being (Sleep Advisor, 2024)​ (Sleep Advisor)​.

Conclusion

Modern sleep technologies, particularly sleep pods, are revolutionizing the way travelers rest in airports. By addressing common sleep challenges such as noise, lighting, temperature, and privacy, these innovative solutions provide a much-needed respite for weary travelers. The integration of advanced features ensures that travelers can achieve restorative sleep, improving their overall travel experience and health.

Sources

  • Basner, M., et al. (2019). Aircraft Noise Effects on Sleep—Results of a Pilot Study Near Philadelphia International Airport. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(17), 3178. Link
  • Halasz, P. (2004). Noise-canceling devices and their effects on sleep quality. Journal of Sleep Research.
  • GoSleep. (2021). The impact of sleep pods on traveler restfulness. Sleep Research Society.
  • Hirshkowitz, M., et al. (2015). National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health, 1(1), 40-43.
  • Ebben, M. R., et al. (2006). The efficacy of earplugs and eye masks in improving sleep in a noisy environment. Sleep, 29(1), 90-93.
  • Morin, C. M., et al. (2009). Nonpharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia. Sleep, 32(11), 1439-1454.
  • Smith, M. T., et al. (2018). Comparative effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia: a systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 40, 3-16.
  • Journal of Physiological Anthropology (2022). Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm.
  • Sleepopolis (2024). Thermoregulation During Sleep: How Room and Body Temperature Affects Your Rest Quality.
  • International Journal of Molecular Sciences (2022). How Temperature Influences Sleep.
  • Sleep Foundation (2021). Light & Sleep: Effects on Sleep Quality.

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Image of Nathan Kip Rotich

Nathan helps travelers find the most comfortable sleep setups during layovers, from cozy airport hotels to futuristic sleep pods. His insights aim to transform layovers into rejuvenating sleepcations, offering travelers an alternative to costly hotels and uncomfortable benches.