When we go on holiday, we hope for some well-deserved rest, to spend a week or two away from the stresses of work and daily life and return refreshed, ready to face more challenges with a spring in your step! So it can be enormously frustrating when you don’t get the rest you need through lack of sleep.
It is common when on holiday to experience some sleep loss, and there are many reasons why this should occur. Jet lag is the most common cause, with irregular bedtimes, an unfamiliar bed, and change in climate also contributing.
A change of environment has a significant impact on sleep, particularly during the first night. This phenomenon is so well recognised to scientists that they have labelled it the ‘first night effect’. Recent research suggests that, when faced with a new location, one-half of the brain remains alert and sleeps only lightly, keeping the sleeper in a state of readiness in case the new location turns out to be hostile. This usually abates over the course of the holiday but a lack of sleep on the first night can have a knock-on effect that leads to a lack of enjoyment during your well-deserved break.
However, don’t despair as there are a few things you can do to help!
Before you travel
If you arrive at your destination well rested, you are less prone to jet lag so before you leave, try to maintain a regular sleep routine. For at least the week before your holiday prioritise sleep, so you are well rested before you leave. For example, make sure that you keep to a regular sleep/wake routine as this will promote better quality sleep, avoid caffeine in the evenings and resist the temptation to nap during the day as this will affect your night-time sleep.
Learn to de-stress
Stress will also contribute to sleeplessness. As you settle down for sleep, it is often the case that your mind turns to thoughts of passports, taxis and the perils of shepherding a family through a departure lounge! A simple checklist can help overcome these concerns; you should also leave plenty of time for travelling to the airport to avoid any unnecessary worry.
A home from home
As mentioned, the unfamiliar surroundings of your destination can also impact negatively on your sleep. You can’t take your bed with you but to prepare for this, pack some familiar items from home so that your mind and body recognise familiar cues that will aid relaxation. If you have room in your luggage, try packing a pillow from home and comfortable pyjamas to ensure your new room feels more like home.
When you arrive
After a long journey, you are likely to feel tired and might fancy a nap. However, tempting as it may be, sleeping during the day will throw out your sleep pattern and make it harder to drift off at night, leading to an unhelpful repeating pattern of sleeping during the day to combat the effects of lying awake at night.
To overcome the urge to sleep, take a walk or go for a jog. This will release endorphins which stimulate the mind and combat drowsiness. If the urge to take a nap is too powerful, limit it to a 20-minute ‘power nap’. This will be enough to refresh you and let you enjoy the rest of the day without impacting on your sleep drive in the evening.
Try not to catastrophize; you are on holiday, so worst case scenario is that you will sleep poorly and feel a bit tired during the day. It is the anxiety around losing sleep which will affect your holiday rather than the sleep loss itself. Just take it easy, get plenty of fresh air, healthy food and relax.
By following these simple tips to beating jet lag and ensuring you maintain a healthy sleep routine in the run up to and throughout your holiday, there is no reason you shouldn’t return fully rested and raring to go!