Your Health A-Z

Holiday sleep disorders (and how to avoid them)

Good news: you’re heading off on a well-deserved holiday! Bad news: between jet lag, disrupted sleep and post-vacation blues, there’s a chance your time off might not provide you with the rest you need. Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, a specialist sleep neuropsychiatrist at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, suggests some interventions to ensure you get the rest you need while you’re on vacation.

Jet lag

The best-known holiday sleep disorder is, of course, jet lag. If you travel to a different time zone, it can disrupt your circadian rhythm (your internal clock that tells your body when it’s time to sleep and wake up). This clock sticks to your regular schedule, so if it’s night-time at home, your body may still think it’s time to go to bed, even if it’s the middle of the day where you are.

While your body will naturally adjust to the new time zone, there are a few ways you can help it along.

Dr Ebrahim says the best intervention is to adjust to the local time at your destination as soon as possible. “Set your watch to your destination’s time zone the moment you take your seat on the plane,” he says. “If it’s time to be awake at your destination, you should be awake; if it is sleep time at your destination, you should sleep.”

Dr Ebrahim’s strategies to minimise the effects of jet lag

  • Avoid napping when you arrive at your destination
  • Plan wisely and choose a flight that lands in the evening so you don’t go too long without rest
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
  • Switch your smartphone to silent
  • Make sure the air conditioning in your hotel room isn’t too hot (keep it under 24°C) or too cold (keep it above 12°C)

The science of sleep

Make the most of your holiday

While you’re on holiday, try not to overdo things. Switch off, disconnect, and avoid the temptation to update your Facebook albums and Instagram stories. Don’t stay up too late too often, and maintain a normal, healthy sleeping schedule.

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Post-holiday syndrome

Sometimes, the worst sleep disruptions and disorders can hit you when you get back home again. Going back to work after a holiday has been known to lead to mental and physical discomfort, in the form of tiredness, sleeplessness, muscular pains and irritability. Some experts have labelled this ‘post-holiday syndrome’.

It’s a very real phenomenon, and it’s why you’ll often find people joking that by lunchtime on their first day back, it feels like they never went away. In fact, one Dutch study found no difference in the post-trip happiness levels of people who’d been away on holiday and those who hadn’t.

Try to avoid those post-holiday blues by coming back home a day early, rather than charging back the night before you’re due back at your desk. That extra day will allow your body and mind to readjust, giving you time to unpack and settle in.

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In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.