Vacation is supposed to be all about R&R. But the reality is that both itinerary-obsessed sightseers and beach loungers alike can wind up heading home drained, rather than rejuvenated. The reason: vacation-induced sleep debt. Below, check out some of the worst culprits—and find out how to avoid them, so you can cut loose, relax, and still get the sleep that you need.
Whether or not your vacation involves a time change, there’s a good chance that some schedule-shifting may be involved. After all, since you don’t have to punch a clock each morning, you may be more inclined to explore the nightlife options at your destination. But try not to get too off track. For instance, if you stay up three hours later than usual on the first night, that might throw your body for a loop. Depending on the length of your trip, consider whether it’s worth it. Don’t forget that you’ll have to shift back when you go home. Could you trade the nightclubs for some early morning hikes or watching the sunrise on the beach?
Eating dinner well after the sun sets may be all the rage in many parts of the world (hello, Barcelona!), but filling your belly too close to bedtime doesn’t do your sleep any favors. Not only can it be harder to drift off when your body is busy digesting, but ethnic fare (especially spicy or rich foods) can exacerbate acid reflux when you lie down. If you want to do like the Europeans do—and sleep better, to boot—make your midday meal the heavier one, and keep it light at night.
Nothing says vacation like an umbrella in your drink. But before you reach for that nightcap, keep in mind: Alcohol can be a sleep saboteur. Even though a glass of wine may help you relax—and even feel sleepy—it can actually make your sleep less restful and cause you to wake up during the night. Stick to one or two drinks a day (max) to avoid undermining the restorative power of your sleep, and try not to have any right before bed.
Some hotel beds are the very definition of luxury. Others, not so much. No matter where you’re staying, having a few travel accessories in your suitcase can help you sleep soundly—no matter the environment. For example, a set of earplugs take up virtually no space and can be a sleep saver if you wind up in a place with thin walls (or if you’re sharing a room with a snorer). Another tiny item that can yield big sleep benefits: a sleep mask to shield your eyes from excess light. Finally, think about bringing something familiar from home that you associate with sleep, whether it’s a white noise machine or a lavender spray mist. Sweet dreams!