Hydration is fundamental to health, and your hydration level is closely connected to the types and amounts of liquids that you drink.
On a big vacation or important business trip, though, wise beverage choices are rarely top-of-mind. If anything, many travelers opt for less healthy drinks than they would at home.
Regrettably, poor drink choices can negatively impact hydration, sleep, and overall wellness. Knowing which beverages to limit or avoid while traveling can reduce sleeping problems during a trip and help you return home feeling healthy and refreshed.
The types of fluids that you drink affect your body’s hydration level. Dehydration can cause extreme fatigue and excessive drowsiness as well as dry mouth, headaches, and cramps that may interfere with sleep.
Beverages can also impact sleep because of their effect on the brain. Alcohol has a sedative effect but induces changes in the sleep cycle resulting in lower-quality sleep. Alcohol can affect breathing, increasing snoring and heightening the risk of sleep apnea.
Caffeine, on the other hand, is a stimulant, promoting wakefulness and alertness. It is commonly found in coffee, energy drinks, and many teas. The body takes four to six hours to metabolize half of the caffeine consumed, which means caffeine can have an enduring effect that may interfere with sleep.
When and how much you drink different beverages can affect sleep. Too much fluid consumption may contribute to frequent urination at night, known as nocturia, which can disturb sleep with repeated trips to the bathroom. Late night or significant consumption of alcohol or caffeine can also interfere with sleep.
Alcohol, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and soda can affect sleep and should be either avoided or used cautiously when traveling.
If you decide to drink any of these beverages, consider both the quantity and timing of their consumption. Drinking them in moderation and long before bedtime reduces their potential impact on sleep.
Because of their effect on the brain, alcoholic drinks can erode sleep quality even if they make you feel sleepier at bedtime. As a result, alcohol may worsen sleeping problems that can arise on a trip such as travel fatigue, jet lag, snoring, and sleep apnea.
Alcohol affects decision-making, which is another reason to limit consumption when traveling. Altitude enhances the effects of alcohol, which increases the risk of impairment on arrival after drinking on flights.
If you plan to drink alcohol during a trip, consume it in small quantities and ideally at least a few hours before bedtime.
Coffee and many types of tea contain caffeine. Caffeine is generally safe in moderate quantities but can be harmful in excess or when consumed late in the day. Drinking coffee in the afternoon or evening can also negatively impact sleep.
Caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person. In general, it’s best to avoid caffeine for at least six hours before your planned bedtime to prevent sleep problems.
Earlier in the day, caffeine may provide a useful pick-me-up to counteract daytime sleepiness related to jet lag or travel fatigue; however, it’s important not to rely on caffeine at the expense of sufficient nightly sleep.
Energy drinks are sold in a large format (12-16 ounces) or as energy shots (1-3 ounces) and usually include caffeine and other compounds intended to have a stimulant effect. Many energy drinks have high levels of sugar as well.
The quantity of caffeine in energy drinks is often considerably higher than that in coffee or tea. Rapid consumption of caffeine, such as through energy shots, can cause bodily stress from overstimulation.
Since energy drinks have a powerful stimulant effect, limit your consumption of them while traveling. Stay away from energy drinks for a minimum of six hours before you plan to go to bed, don’t drink them with alcohol, and avoid rapidly consuming them.
Soda commonly contains caffeine and should be consumed in moderation and with caution in order to avoid sleep disturbances. As with other caffeinated drinks, avoid soda for at least six hours before bedtime.
Nutrition experts typically advise against significant soda consumption because these drinks have high quantities of sugar that detract from a healthy diet and can contribute to numerous health problems including weight gain and diabetes. Drinking diet sodas as a substitute may interfere with sleep as the body works to break down non-sugar sweeteners.
During plane travel, changes in air pressure can contribute to abdominal bloating. For this reason, consider avoiding or limiting consumption of carbonated beverages before and during a flight.
An important consideration while traveling is making sure that you don’t drink contaminated beverages. In many locations, tap water is not potable and may contain harmful bacteria or viruses.
If you cannot confirm the safety of the local water supply, drink only sealed bottled water, and avoid drinks that may contain contaminated water or ice cubes.
The best beverage to drink while traveling is water. Plain water provides your body with the hydration that it needs without alcohol, caffeine, or sugar that could affect your sleep. Sipping water throughout the day can prevent dehydration when you go to sleep.
If you don’t like plain water, low-calorie options like flavored water, seltzer, and sparkling water can help you stay hydrated. Milk, milk alternatives, and juices provide fluids along with other nutrients, but they should be consumed in moderation because of their caloric content.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advise keeping oral rehydration salts, often sold in single-serve packets, in your travel pack. If you get sick with traveler’s diarrhea, oral rehydration salts can be mixed with water to help replenish necessary electrolytes. Bringing rehydration salts may be especially important if you travel to a location with known food or water contamination risks.