According to a new survey by The Gallup Organization, the majority of Americans return from vacation tired. In fact, more people said they were tired after they returned than before they left. The Gallup survey, sponsored by Sanofi-Synthelabo Inc., identified poor planning, later bedtimes and unfamiliar or uncomfortable accommodations as some of the key reasons why people arrive home tired from their trip.
The survey revealed that 54% of respondents reported they returned from vacation feeling tired, including 19% who said they returned feeling either "very tired" or "exhausted."
"One would expect that vacation would dramatically reduce the number of people reporting tiredness, but instead there was an increase," said Dr. Roger Cadieux, clinical professor of psychiatry at Penn State University's College of Medicine. "Clearly, vacations are fraught with obstacles to sleep and relaxation, and the problems often begin before you leave home."
Sleep Loss Starts Before Vacation
The survey of 1,000 Americans who traveled on vacation within the past year identified multiple factors and behaviors that contribute to vacation-related sleep loss.
For example, results showed:
56% packed either the night before or the day of the trip (46% and 10%, respectively). Approximately one in three people (32%) went to bed at least two hours later than normal due to this lack of advanced planning
The morning of the trip, 54% reported waking up earlier than normal to get an early start
Of the survey participants who were employed at the time of their last vacation, 36% reported having to work harder or stay at the office later than usual in advance of their trip, and
26% reported losing sleep because of this increased job pressure
"Americans easily add to their sleep deficit before the start of their vacation," noted Dr. Cadieux. "As a result, they make it much more difficult to recharge their depleted batteries in the course of a single vacation."
Running into Sleep Obstacles
During their vacations, many respondents disrupted their normal sleep habits. For example, travelers tended to stay up later than normal and wake up earlier than usual for a significant proportion of their vacation -- an average of five late nights and five early risings for those who got to bed late or awoke early. Regardless of the length of their trip, the majority of travelers stayed up later than normal on at least one night. Approximately 22% of individuals vacationing for 10 to 14 days went to bed later than normal nearly every night.
"Limiting your time in bed is one of the most common ways to increase your degree of sleeplessness," said Cadieux. "A significant number of vacationers do not make sleep a priority on their trips."
Once in bed, 10% of respondents reported that they had trouble sleeping. The most commonly reported reasons for sleep problems involved unfamiliar or noisy surroundings (42%), uncomfortable bed or accommodations (37%), medical conditions, including indigestion and chronic sleep problems (20%), or worrying about work, financial, or family problems (9%). Women were approximately two times more likely than men to experience sleep problems during vacation.
Making Vacation Sleep-Friendly
According to Dr. Cadieux, there are a number of ways to improve sleep during vacation and make trips more restful. Travelers should consider the following:
Start packing several days before you leave. Select, fold, and put clothes aside if you're concerned about them getting wrinkled in your suitcase. Don't wait until the night before to decide what you're going to pack.
Don't over-extend yourself before vacation. Start refreshed. Plan to get several good nights of sleep before leaving. If you regularly have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, see your doctor. "A vacation will do little to correct a chronic sleep problem, such as insomnia. You'll only take it on the road with you," explained Cadieux.
Make your accommodations as familiar and comfortable as possible. Pack comfortable clothes and your favorite pajamas. If there's room in your suitcase, pack your own pillow. If you have back problems, ask hotel management for a room with a firmer mattress. If you're sensitive to noise, avoid accommodations on busy highways and opt instead for the friendly inn on the quiet side street. Also, ask the reservation desk to put you in a room away from the clattering elevator or chattering ice machine.
Eat and drink moderately. Overeating, particularly late at night, can negatively affect sleep by causing indigestion. Alcohol can also impact sleep. While it is often thought of as a sedative, alcohol actually may cause you to awaken in the later half of the night. If your sleep isn't restful, alcohol may be the cause. Skip the nightcap and see if your sleep improves.
Choose a vacation that you'll truly find relaxing. Survey respondents who visited family were most likely to return from their trip "exhausted" (12%), while those who took a cruise were most likely to arrive home "well rested" (30%). If you really need the rest, consider a trip that will provide optimum relaxation.
Plan to get a full night's sleep. You don't have to sacrifice fun for sleep. You can conquer every monument in Washington, DC and still get a full night's sleep. Nevertheless, vacation is supposed to be rejuvenating. You won't sleep if you approach vacation like a marathon.
Stop worrying. Don't put work, family, or financial problems on the itinerary. You'll have more than enough time to address these upon your return. If you must work during vacation, limit your efforts only to high-priority tasks. Don't allow yourself to get pulled into conference calls about the broken copy machine.
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