Why You Don't Sleep as Well on Vacation

Why You Don't Sleep as Well on Vacation

Sleep is a fickle thing, and trying to chase after it can seem impossible even when there hasn’t been a change in your routine. When there has been a change, however, it can seem impossible to try and get a good night’s sleep. Trying to sleep on vacation may just be the most trying of them all because of all you may have to contend with from time changes to weather changes to entirely new sleeping conditions. Here we can address why it’s so difficult to sleep in these situations and what you can do to get some better sleep on vacation. 

Understanding the First-Night Effect

It’s common to have a hard time falling asleep in new environments due to the first-night effect (FNE), where the brain remains partially alert during the initial night in an unfamiliar setting. This mechanism is our body’s instinctive protective measure to safeguard us while we sleep. This function is evolutionary in nature and worked to protect our ancestors from potential threats or predators that could be lurking at night. While most modern day people do not have the imminent threat of becoming prey to a wild animal, the FNE is still very prevalent when we are in unfamiliar territory and must spend the night there. While it is something we must contend with, there are ways of mitigating the effects of the FNE when trying to sleep somewhere other than home. 

Stick to Your Bedtime Routine

While sticking to a bedtime routine may be key to maintaining good sleep hygiene in general, it is especially important when it comes to sleeping better away from home. Even when you’re in an unfamiliar environment, your brain still recognizes elements of your usual sleep routine such as reading before bed or going to bed at the same time every night. Try keeping your sleep schedule and sleep routine consistent even if you end up getting to your accommodations late. If you try to force yourself to sleep, the effects of foregoing your usual routine alongside sleeping in an unusual environment can diminish your quality of sleep even further. 

Bring Your Own Pillow

Remember being a kid and carrying around a specific stuffed animal or blanket from place to place as a means of security? Well, the effect an object like that has doesn’t necessarily go away after childhood and adolescence. Bringing your own pillow from home offers you a sense of comfort and familiarity as the same smells and physical feeling of your pillow at home tricks your brain into thinking you are in a familiar place. Of course it doesn’t have to be relegated to your pillow. If you have a favorite blanket or even a stuffed animal that is travel-friendly that allows you to feel more at-home in a hotel, Airbnb, or tent, then it can be an invaluable asset in helping you sleep better at night. 

Minimize Distractions

Distractions take on multiple meanings in this sense as it refers to distractions during your bedtime routine as well as distractions to your body once you have already drifted off. When it comes to your bedtime routine, avoid distractions such as blue light and caffeine. Exposure to blue lights from devices such as your phone, computer, tablet and TV can inhibit melatonin production and stimulate the brain even more. The same goes for caffeine as it stimulates the mind and body to the point of making rest more difficult. Be wary of hidden caffeine in food products like chocolate and drinks such as teas in order to avoid being too wired to sleep. 


Distractions to the body operate in a similar way. While caffeine and blue light exposure ultimately hinder your ability to fall asleep to begin with, be wary of what may inhibit the quality of your sleep once you manage to fall asleep. For instance, alcohol can decrease your quality of sleep. Alcohol is a sedative which induces feelings of sleepiness and relaxation making it seem like an obvious choice to help us feel drowsy, and drinking alcohol before bed can make us fall asleep quickly. While this may seem like a win-win, this sudden onset of sleep disrupts the slow-wave and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycles making the sleep less restful and rejuvenating than it otherwise would be with moderate amounts of alcohol decreased sleep quality by as much as 24%


Additionally, it is important to be mindful of how your body works while you sleep. Eating and drinking too close to bedtime can inhibit your overall sleep quality as too much liquid in your system can force you out of bed multiple times throughout the night for bathroom breaks. The digestion process can also cause sleep disruptions in the form of waking up in the middle of the night and less restful sleep as the body works to digest what you had last eaten. For best practices, try to avoid heavy meals for three to four hours before bedtime to ensure your body has time to digest and limit your water intake for the last hour or two in order to prevent unwanted bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. 

Cool Things Down

While you may be reluctant to adjust the thermostat at home, take advantage of the ability to cool down your hotel room with the AC unit. The average temperature range for comfortable sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees fahrenheit Even if this seems to be slightly on the chilly side, this range effectively drops the body’s core temperature. A drop in core body temperature signals to the brain that it is time for sleep, and this process works in tandem with the body’s circadian rhythm. The exact temperature may vary from person to person, but sleeping in an environment that lowers the body’s core temperature works best. 

Embrace a Weighted Blanket

Even if you’re excited to be on vacation, traveling in general and being in an unfamiliar environment can be stressful. Stress can make sleep all the more difficult to get at night, and that coupled with unfamiliar surroundings only serve to make falling asleep even harder. If you find yourself routinely stressed while trying to sleep on vacation, then it could be worth your while to try bringing along a weighted blanket. The weight exerts gentle pressure to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety and prepare your body for rest. The Nodpod BODY is a new take on the traditional weighted blanket that offers more concentrated pressure in the specific area(s) in which you need it without the excess heat of a standard weighted blanket that is both TSA-approved and travel-friendly. 

Key Takeaways

Vacations should be fun, but sometimes stress and sleepless nights are an inevitable part of them. Stress can negatively impact the quality of your sleep, and your lack of sleep can then cause even more stress in a vicious cycle of sleeplessness. While nothing can really compare to your home sweet home, there are ways to make irregular sleeping environments feel more familiar and comforting. Whether it be through behavioral changes such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol after a certain hour or by bringing something comforting such as a pillow from home or a weighted blanket, you can help ensure restful sleep anywhere you go.

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