Take Time to Plan a Summer Vacation; You’ll Be Glad You Did


Beth English on sleep times and school starts
Beth English
Managing Editor

Ah, June. Those of you with school-age children might understand my glee when the calendar finally flips to June. The long winter is behind us, sunshine is a daily friend, and the grinding schedule of getting children to school on time and helping with seemingly endless homework questions is almost finished. Bring on summer vacation!

Even those who don’t have the rhythm of the school year punctuating their weekdays feel the shift when the summer months roll in.

The pace of daily life slows. Swimming pools and backyard barbecues beckon. The tenor of work changes as people take vacations and come back refreshed.

Sometimes people get so caught up in work deadlines they don’t use their vacation days, but research has indicated it’s important to take time away to recharge.

In fact, the Holiday Health Report published by Swiss tourism company Kuoni Travel and Nuffield Health, one of the largest health charities in the United Kingdom, found that those who took a vacation experienced a variety of health benefits.

They found that vacationers’ blood pressure dropped 6%, while those who stayed at work rose by 2%. Sleep quality improved by 17% in vacationers, while it deteriorated by 14% in those who stayed home. The ability to recover from stress increased by 29% in those who took a holiday while stress resilience fell by 71% in workers. Other health benefits of vacationing included a decrease in blood glucose levels, reduced risk of diabetes, trimmer waistlines, enhanced mood and better energy levels.

Ready for vacation yet?

If you do go out of town, be prepared for “the first night effect.” You know the feeling.

You’re in a new place and no matter how tired you might be, you end up tossing and turning or waking up a few times during the night. Researchers have long known about this effect and routinely toss out the first night’s results in a sleep study, according to a CNBC.com article. Recently, researchers from Brown University and the Georgia Institute of Technology looked into why most people don’t sleep well their first night away. They were surprised to find that one hemisphere of the brain seemed to stay awake, keeping the brain from entering slow wave sleep.

“When people sleep in a new room, we are not really sure if the room is safe or not to sleep deeply,” Masako Tamaki, one of the study’s co-authors, told CNBC. “It could be possible that we keep this one brain hemisphere vigilant so that we can monitor and detect something unusual in our surroundings.”

The effect usually goes away after the first night, and then the true benefits of vacation rest come into play.

People tend to sleep better when on vacation for a variety of reasons: more exposure to sunlight, more exercise, reduced stress, less time on tech devices and lighter conversations, according to an April 2014 article on Health.com.

Of course, when your traveling days are over, coming home to familiar surroundings reminds you of all that you love about your life. And few things feel better than falling asleep in your own comfortable bed.