28 AUG 2020 By Bob Floro, MS, RRT
Did you know …
“One in four Americans develop insomnia each year, but about 75 percent of these individuals recover without developing persistent poor sleep or chronic insomnia, while 25% experience acute insomnia each year.” – Science Daily*
*This study is based on a study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“About 40% of the Canadian population is living with a sleep disorder, insomnia being the most prevalent. About 10% of the adult population in Canada experience persistent insomnia while an additional 20% to 25% report occasional insomnia symptoms.”
– Canadian Sleep Society
Insomnia is defined as a difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for at least three nights per week over two consecutive weeks. It is defined as chronic insomnia if it occurs over three nights per week for over 3 months.
What are Causes of Insomnia while on Vacation?
Temporary or acute Insomnia has various causes, some of which are easier to pinpoint than others.
“Whether caused by stress, illness, medications, or other factors, poor sleep is very common,” said senior author Michael Perlis, PhD, an associate professor of Psychiatry and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program.
While vacations are meant to unwind and relax, often we return from our trip more exhausted than when we started. Granted we may be physically and mentally drained depending how rigorous the schedule of activities we partook in during our trip, but many of us struggle to find a restful night’s sleep in new surroundings, especially our children. Why?
When on vacation, those dealing with insomnia may see a spike in their symptoms because they are off their normal routine, eating a variety of new foods, enduring the normal stressors of traveling, sleeping in new surroundings as well as on a new mattress and pillows, and depending on how far you’re traveling you can be disturbing your circadian window.
“All of us have an optimal period when our bodies want to sleep — typically around 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. This is called your ‘circadian window’. And any time you travel, particularly across two or more time zones, it ends up wreaking havoc on your circadian window,” says Charlene Gamaldo, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep.
Another reason sleep patterns become erratic during vacation is a condition called Jet Lag, which is insomnia caused by adjusting to a different time zone.
“Jet lag results when our internal biological clock is not aligned to the patterns of light and dark in our new environment. It may occur regardless of the direction of travel, although it is most pronounced when traveling west to east. Most people require several days to adjust their sleep pattern to the new time zone.”
How can we improve sleep during vacation?
There are several things you can do before, during and after your vacation to come back from your trip refreshed and ready to return to school, work, and your daily routine.
First, prepare ahead of time if you’ll be traveling outside of your home’s time zone. Begin moving your or your children’s bedtime an hour earlier or later than your regular bedtime each day before your trip, so you can begin adjusting to your new schedule. So, if you’re traveling to a time zone three hours difference from yours, start three days ahead to add one hour per night to adjust to your destination’s time zone. Typically, studies show it takes you one day per time zone you’re traveling to for your body to adjust so planning ahead may decrease this adjustment period, thus you have more time to enjoy your vacation and reduce symptoms of Jet Lag.
During that preparatory period, avoid sleep debt. Many of us lose sleep BEFORE the vacation – attempts at getting ahead of work before leaving, staying up all night packing before the trip, youngsters not sleeping well before leaving due to anxious anticipation of the trip, etc. the remedy is discipline in your routine. Planning for time spent at work and/or packing time early in advance of the trip can help avoid sleep debt.
Second, as soon as you land, prepare your body for the new schedule by exposing yourself to light if you arrived in the morning or early afternoon. Get outside, take a walk or eat at an outside café to wake your body up and sync with your new time zone. If you’ve arrived later in the day, reduce light exposure by wearing sunglasses and drawing the drapes in your hotel or vacation rental.
Third, be active and exercise when it’s time to start your day. Take a warm shower, go for a run or swim to warm your body up. “Increasing core body temperature is a trigger for your circadian rhythm,” Charlene Gamaldo of John Hopkins Sleep Center says. For children, get them outside to walk or run on the beach or play at a local playground.
Fourth, prepare if vacationing at or near a beach. Some common issues may include sunburn, insect bites, allergies and saltwater irritation. The obvious remedies are sunscreen, bug spray, and allergy medications & barriers. Also, a good habit is to shower/bathe before retiring each night.
Fifth, adults may take medications, such as those prescribed by your physician, or over-the counter medications that are available at most groceries and health food stores. Melatonin is a common nonprescription sleep aid in doses of up to 10 milligrams. 1 It is a naturally occurring hormone that rises about two hours before your normal bedtime. Melatonin may not be a cure for Jet Lag but combined with light exposure during the day and reducing light in the evenings can improve sleep.
Sixth, make the room as dark as possible when it’s time to sleep for you and your children, as our body’s tendency is to sleep when it’s dark. Even during their naptimes, do your best to close the curtains, throw blankets or towels over the windows to induce and lengthen sleep times. For children, give them enough time to fall asleep each night as they need time to wind down from their active days. Do your best to keep their sleep routines as close as possible to their normal routines with necessary adjustments.
Seventh, adjust sleep arrangements as close to home, for example sleep on the same side of the bed that you do at home and keep the bedroom temperatures the same if you can control them. Bringing items from home to instill familiarity may improve sleep as well.
Tips for young children:
- Bring pillows, sheets, blankets, stuffed animals, and a portable crib, if possible, so your child feels comfortable and familiar with their vacation bed.
- Plan travel time around their bedtime, so they can sleep during the flight or the drive to your destination and they arrive well rested. If your child finds it difficult to sleep in route, schedule the travel time during their wake times. Do you best to sleep when your children sleep, so you all arrive ready for the day.
- Be flexible with sleep arrangements. Again, this depends on your children’s preferences. Some children may be stressed when sleeping in an unfamiliar setting so they may need to sleep in their parent’s room or even their bed, while others may need a darkened quiet room in separate bedroom of the rental. Bring a portable crib or rent one so you can make needed adjustments and move around accordingly. Bed sharing may also become a problem if not practiced in the home. Proper accommodations may avoid sleepless nights
- Use a white noise app to drown out any unfamiliar sounds of your new location, as well as soothe your children into sleep. Some recommended apps include White Noise, Chroma Doze, Sleep Fan, Coffitivity, Noisli and myNoise.net.
- Squeeze in as many naps as you can. A sleep-deprived child will tend to have less patience, increased irritation to stimuli and probability towards those dreaded meltdowns… which could spell trouble for the whole family. So be creative in finding times for them to nap, for example when waiting in line for rides, drape a light blanket or stroller shade cover over their stroller and rock them to sleep. Or bring a shade pop-up tent and portable fan to the beach so they can take naps while you’re enjoying your favorite book close to them.
- Be flexible and have fun. Regardless of how much preparation, sleep patterns are going to vary during vacation based on daytime and nighttime activities, as well as the children’s excitement of being on vacation. If they miss a few naps and stay up past their bedtime during the vacation, children are quite resilient and will catch up on sleep when you return home.
The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The American Academy of Cardiovascular Sleep Medicine.”