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Need a Vacation From Your Vacation?

Summer vacation season is in full swing. Thousands of Americans are counting down the days until they will be able to spend a week or two visiting family, camping in a national park, traveling overseas, or simply lounging in the sun.

But according to a new Gallup survey*, the majority of Americans do not return from vacation rested and relaxed. More people told Gallup they were more tired after they returned than before they left. The survey, sponsored by Sanofi-Synthelabo Inc., identified poor planning, later bedtimes and unfamiliar or uncomfortable accommodations as key reasons why people arrive home tired from their trips.

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.

  • 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 because of 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.
  • 26% reported losing sleep because of this increased job pressure.

"Americans easily add to their sleep deficit before the start of their vacation," noted 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

While on vacation, 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 portion 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 vacation length, the majority of travelers stayed up later than usual 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 Cadieux, there are a number of ways to improve sleep during vacation and make trips more restful.

  • Start packing several days before you leave.
  • Don't overextend yourself before vacation.
  • Make your accommodations as familiar and comfortable as possible.
  • Eat and drink moderately during vacation.
  • Choose a vacation that you'll truly find relaxing.
  • Plan to get a full night's sleep while on vacation.
  • Stop worrying.

*The survey results are based on a national survey of 1,000 telephone interviews conducted May 3-26, 2002 with adults who were identified as having taken a vacation away from home in the past year. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be ±3%.

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