Holidays are the most eagerly-anticipated time for all. Be it school kids, students, office workers or even high-flying entrepreneurs, holidays deliver high on fun, relaxation and a much-needed dose of healthiness. (Sometimes.) Everyone ought to spend this free time full of zeal and energy, but what if the stresses of real life follow you to the beach? What if familiar issues of insomnia and sleep deprivation are impossible to escape?
For many, holidays only add to the stresses and preoccupations that are the root of insomnia’s evil. Whether it’s taking on extra work to make the figures add up or the worry of important projects unravelling whilst you’re away from the desk, a crowded mind flooded with nervous tension and anxieties can make it impossible to sleep. And the long-term effects are real.
While mood swings, low concentration and potential accidents are obvious concerns—lack of sleep can affect your balance, increase the risk of heart disease or diabetes, contribute to weight gain, and weaken your immune system. Pushing yourself all the way until your flight prepares to embark probably means that insomnia will have packed its bags and be boarding with you.
How can we sleep easier? First of all—and distinctly separating holidaying and travelling—it’s important to remember what you’re boarding that plane for. In the age of hyper-productivity, the dopamine rush we get from ticking off a task has an opiate-like grip upon us. Multitasking has become a kind of productivity addiction, who can’t even spend two minutes brushing their teeth without searching for something else to fill that time with? It can seem like the end of the world if you’re all alone with nothing to do and your battery has run flat …
Taking time out to do nothing at all gives your brain and body a chance to restore and recharge, but we’ve completely forgotten how to do it. Holidays once meant getting away from it all, doing the total sum of zero and lapping up the rewards—it’s time to rediscover the art of doing nothing.
The shifting reputation of mindfulness has begun sewing seeds of change, with mega-money applications from Silicon Valley helping millions to switch off—easing tension by casting concerns aside, reconnecting with the body through breathing exercises, allowing your mind the break it needs; it’s the chance to take a short holiday without even leaving your bed. “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast,” wrote William Congreve in 1697, and more than three centuries later it’s a sentiment that rings true more than ever. Be it Eno’s iconic Ambient 1: Music for Airports, or the soothing jams of Miles Davis, it is scientifically proven that listening to music while sleeping can greatly enhance your night’s sleep.
But holidays can mean changes to your routine. Different places equals different beds. Some hard and inflexible, some lavish and capable of sending the most weary into the land of slumber. From Fairmont, who overhauled their beds in 2016 with mattresses complete with therapeutic core support, memory foam and cooling technology, to Four Seasons with their hotel mattresses equipped with pocketed coil motion separation and Geltouch Foam, many luxury chains put millions of dollars of research into their beds. From studying sleeping positions to sourcing the rarest and most indulgent materials, manufacturing the best hotel mattress has become a race to the top with tired travellers the winner.
In 2009, a scientific study funded by the Better Sleep Council evaluated the stress levels—based on factors like worrying, racing thoughts, nervousness, irritability, headaches and trembling—of 59 healthy men and women who had slept for 28 consecutive nights on their existing mattresses, followed by a further 28 nights on new, medium-firm mattresses. The results? An increase in quality of mattress saw “a significant decrease in stress.”
Whilst we can help ourselves to consciously do less, to switch off from the attention economy and to reconnect with our inner selves and the natural world, we can never replicate the healing qualities of natural sleep.
Says Rafael Pelayo, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center in Redwood City, California: “Sleep is a natural, restorative, physiological process characterised by a perceptual disengagement [meaning you tune out from whatever’s going on around you]. The entire body takes advantage of sleep,” he continues—for example, kidneys slow down production of urine, digestion slows in the gut—“but sleep is really how the brain gets reset for the next day. Sleep restores the brain.”
Which is why beds are one luxury we should not overlook. Hotel-grade mattresses from the likes of DreamCloud (gel memory foam for sleeping cool, plush Euro top for soft support, micro coil support system for a touch of bounce) and Nectar (smart memory foam, adaptive cooling cover, seven-zone supported base with positional materials) can aid in ridding your life of insomnia, improve your sleep health, and help prevent against all manner of conditions.
So the rules of helping your body help itself? Use your holidays how you should. Take up mindfulness practices and master the art of doing nothing. Bring the luxury of hotel mattresses into your daily life. Improve your hygiene …
Improve your hygiene? Yes. Sleep hygiene is the habits that can help you have a good night’s sleep. Think ‘setting’ your body clock to rise at the same time every day; ensuring your room is at the right temperature and dark enough; avoiding smartphones and television directly before trying to sleep; cutting out the caffeine; avoiding naps; and getting into shape with an exercise schedule. Many doctors and scientists have added to the list of do’s and don’ts since these recommendations were first introduced in the late 1970s, but the most important thing is to listen to your body; do what feels natural to you, and better sleep should be just around the corner.
“Humans are not sleeping the way nature intended,” says neuroscientist Matthew Walker. “The number of sleep bouts, the duration of sleep, and when sleep occurs has all been comprehensively distorted by modernity. The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognised causal links to a lack of sleep.” Humans, he says, are Earth’s only species deliberately depriving themselves of sleep for no apparent gain.
If we want to give our immune systems a chance, to lower the risk of contracting cancer, to reset our brains and help prevent against Alzheimer’s, Walker prescribes a solid eight hours a night. “Our lack of sleep,” he says, “is a slow form of self-euthanasia.” Now is the time to make a change.