Resting, recharging, and rejuvenating: who doesn’t love a vacation? Not only does it signal that you’ll finally escape from the demands of work and get some quality self-care time, but it can also be the opportunity you need to get some much-needed sleep.
Contrary to the idea that you’ll be slipping into blissful Zzzs while away, getting quality sleep while on vacation doesn’t come as easy as you may expect. But fear not! With just a few adjustments and tips, you can keep your sleep on track while you’re vacationing just about anywhere.
Factors that may disrupt your sleep quality while on vacation
Whether you’ll be spending your vacation in your city, in another town, or four time zones away from home, certain factors may cause you to have sleep troubles. Some of the major ones are:
1. The First-Night Effect
If you’ve ever spent the night sleeping outside of your home, you may be able to relate to the first-night effect.
The first time you try sleeping in an unfamiliar place can often be nothing short of a nightmare. Not only might you find it hard to fall asleep but staying asleep may also be a problem. The slightest disturbances can easily wake you up and falling back asleep may become a huge challenge, too.
If you’ve ever experienced this phenomenon, know that you’re not alone. Even sleep science researchers recognize what many go through the first night sleeping outside the home, and they call this phenomenon the first-night effect, where our brain stays alert all through the night to watch out for potential dangers.
So, if you plan to spend your vacation away from home, you are prone to experiencing the first-night effect.
2. Travel fatigue
Vacations are a dream. But many cannot say the same about preparing for a trip and traveling to your destination. These activities may cause so much physical and mental stress that your body starts to experience travel fatigue when you get to your destination.
Travel fatigue is a form of stress from preparing and going on a vacation. It can happen to anyone and may cause sleep loss during vacation. The Journal of Sports Medicine describes travel fatigue as a “disturbance that generally occurs with any travel regardless of the direction of travel or the number of time zones crossed.” It happens due to the physical and psychological demands of travel on a person, and this exhaustion from traveling may impair a person’s night rest.
A study investigating whether humans experience travel-related stress responses found that the participants’ blood pressure increased the day before and the day after travel. They also experienced poor sleep on the first night in their new location.
3. Jet lag
Jet lag happens when your internal body clock is out of sync with the time zone of your new environment. The symptoms that come from jet lag are your body’s way of reacting to the change in your time zone.
Jet lag is a recognized disorder that happens when a person rapidly crosses three or more time zones. Its symptoms include trouble sleeping, gastrointestinal discomfort, daytime fatigue or sleepiness, poor concentration, and poor physical functioning.
If your vacation destination is multiple time zones away from home, you may experience jet lag upon arrival, and it may take your body about a week to recover from it.
Tips for getting great sleep while on vacation
Consider adopting these tips to refresh and re-energize your body to help it get great sleep while on vacation.
1. Adequately prepare for your vacation
A great way to reduce the impact of heavy travel fatigue during your vacation is by giving yourself enough time to prepare for your trip.
You can start by creating a list of tasks you need to complete, if possible, weeks before your travel date and set out a plan on how you can get them done each day leading up to the travel day.
When you’re adequately prepared, many of the stressors and worries of traveling will be off your shoulder. You may also get a better night’s sleep before you set out on your excursion thanks to your preparedness!
2. Practice a bedtime routine
If you had a bedtime ritual before your vacation, try to stick to it; otherwise, create one while on vacation.
A bedtime routine is a set of relaxing activities you do that help your body wind down for sleep and lead up to your sleep time. Your bedtime routine could include practicing deep breathing exercises, reading a light novel, having a warm shower, and listening to relaxing music.
Research suggests that our body clock works best when day and night activities are separate. When you travel to a new time zone, your body clock will need to adjust to the new mornings and nights, and you can help it by doing activities at nighttime that signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.
3. Make your room sleep-friendly
It’s a great idea to set up your vacay-bedroom in a way that reminds you of your bedroom at home. Doing this helps reduce the effect of sleeping in an unfamiliar place for the first time.
Making your room sleep-friendly and keeping it cool, dark, and quiet, in addition to bringing along your favorite sleep accessories, like your pillow, blanket, sleep noise machine, eye mask, or earplugs are great ways to help ease your body into your new environment for better sleep.
4. Exercise during the day
Research suggests that exercising helps your internal body clock realign to your new time zone or wake-sleep pattern.
If your travel destination is multiple time zones away from home, getting up every morning to do some exercise may support your body clock as it adjusts to your new environment. When you get out to do some physical activity, it helps signal to your body that it should be awake, alert, and active.
5. Take in the morning sunlight
Consider making it a part of your morning routine to always step out at the early hours of the day and bask in the morning sunlight.
Why? Because getting that first hour or two of sunlight into your system helps your body become alert and active and reduces your chances of experiencing daytime sleepiness that may come from jet lag or travel fatigue.
6. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake
Alcohol and caffeine are substances that can mess with your sleep health when you consume them in large doses. So, consider limiting your intake, especially while on vacation when the temptation may be to do otherwise, so you can get quality sleep at night.
When taken in large amounts around bedtime, research shows that alcohol may disrupt your sleep cycle, intensity, duration, and quality. Likewise, evidence suggests that caffeine can act as a stimulant and impact your sleep quality when you take them close to bedtime (and even up to 6 hours before bedtime).
7. Limit blue light exposure at nighttime
Research suggests that blue light from electronic devices may suppress the release of melatonin, the hormone that tells your body it’s time to sleep.
Because of the impact of blue light on the body clock and sleep, experts recommend that you avoid bright lights from screens two to three hours before bed.
So, while on vacation, try to resist the urge to spend your evening looking at screens—watching movies on Netflix scrolling through social media while in front of a bright screen. Maybe instead, it’s an opportunity to go on a walk in that new city, try that new restaurant for desserts, or simply enjoy the evening air in a new place.
Getting great sleep while on vacation is achievable when you do your best to follow these practices. And it’ll make your vacation even more enjoyable as a result!