Princess Cruises woman in bed

How to sleep well on holiday

A whopping 70% of us sleep worse on holiday than at home. Here's how to enjoy your break and return home feeling rested

By Laura Potter

We all know the feeling: you set off for your holiday full of anticipation, ready to explore and unwind, but the first night is spent tossing and turning thanks to uncomfortable mattresses, mistimed naps, jet lag – or a combination of all three. You rely on coffee and excitement to carry you through but long for your own bed. It’s a sad reality that the majority of us experience – but no one books a holiday in search of sleep deprivation. And poor rest on holiday is not just irritating – prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system (hello, post-holiday cold), dent your mood and up your blood pressure.

Getting to the root of the problem

In an effort to understand why sleep is so problematic for holidaymakers, Princess Cruises commissioned research and its survey revealed 70% of Brits sleep worse on holiday than in their day to day lives. Keen to find solutions so every Princess guest wakes up onboard feeling refreshed, they enlisted Dr Michael J Breus, a clinical psychologist and diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine (below).

Dr Michael Breus with Luxury Bed

According to the research, for 45% of holidaymakers, an uncomfortable bed is to blame for sleepless nights. “A bed has two functions; to support the body during sleep and to ensure you remain comfortable to maintain sleep,” says Dr Breus. “Every person is built differently and therefore will experience comfort on a mattress differently.” He helped design the Princess Luxury Bed – found in all staterooms and suites – which adjusts to suit all heights and sizes. If soft mattresses are your nemesis, the nine-inch single sided medium firm mattress will provide perfect support, and if you like to feel like you’re sleeping atop a giant marshmallow, the removable two-inch-thick pillow top will be a blissful addition. Meanwhile, individually wrapped coils mean you won’t be disturbed by your partner if they’re thrashing about.

70% of Brits sleep worse on holiday than in their day to day lives

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It’s not just the bed that makes a difference, being too hot or cold affects 55% of us. Experts agree between 60 and 67ºF (15-19ºC) is the sleep sweet spot. “A cool bedroom is vital for a good night’s sleep,” agrees Dr Breus. “Opt for breathable cotton pyjamas, so you are less likely to overheat.” But your sleepwear consideration shouldn’t stop there, according to Chris Beale, psychologist at Nightingale Hospital in London. “Fit is important; looser pyjamas will move more easily over your body. But be sure any elastic isn’t too tight to cut off circulation or too loose to slip off.” He recommends taking your usual sleepwear with you when you go away, weather permitting, to “create familiar comforts associated with normal sleeping”.

Couple sleeping onboard

Body temperature plays a crucial role in sleep, hence why new research has shown a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bed is a great way to encourage sleepiness. Our body temperature drops an hour before bedtime, then gets to its lowest during the night. Warm baths encourage our bodies to send blood to our extremities, which lowers our body temperature, kick-starting that sleep-inducing process. “Soak for 10 minutes and wear socks after to keep your feet warm before going to bed,” advises Dr Breus.

Another holiday sleep stealer is jet lag, which impacts 15% of us, and while the experts agree you can’t avoid it, there are ways to manage it. First, don’t dwell on it; “If you’re flying, don’t over-analyse sleep on the plane – get whatever sleep you can,” says Beale. “Resist the temptation to catch up on sleep right away if you’ve arrived during the day, and try not to pull an all-nighter if you’ve arrived in the evening,” says Dr Breus. A 2019 study also found eating at the wrong times could have a major impact on your body clock. The authors argued that paying attention to meal timing and light exposure is the best way to mitigate the effects of new time zones. As soon as it’s light, get out on deck and soak up 30 minutes of daylight, and, even if you don’t feel hungry, eat something at meal times.

Couple on balcony

Secrets to sleep

Many of us try to overcome that foggy-headed feeling by slotting in siestas, while irregular bedtimes make sleep a challenge for 27%. When it comes to holiday sleep, consistency is key; “When sleep has a regular rhythm, your biological clock will be in sync and your body will continue to operate normally,” explains Dr Breus. That can be easier said than done when the clocks have moved forward or back, but Beale advises flexibility; “this might mean moving the day forward, so instead of going to bed at 10pm and waking at 6am, change it to midnight to 8am.” You don’t have to impose a nap ban either – we all know how indulgent a poolside snooze can be. “If you have that feeling of sleepiness mid-afternoon, especially after lunch, a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness and improve alertness,” says Beale. The trick is to be smart about it; keep naps to no more than 25 minutes and before 3pm.

Eat (and drink) yourself sleepy

Alaskan King Salmon

We all know caffeine late in the day is a no-no, but were you aware food and drink can be your best friend when it comes to achieving restful sleep? “Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon boost natural levels of melatonin – the sleep-regulating hormone that helps you fall – and stay – asleep, and yoghurt contains calcium, a mineral that plays a direct role in the production of melatonin, as well as magnesium – both sleep-friendly minerals,” says Dr Breus. If you struggle, grab a banana from the buffet and keep it at your bedside. “Bananas are a great source of magnesium and potassium, which have been found to help relax muscles and nerves for a deeper sleep.” And swap after-dinner coffee for caffeine-free tea.

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Some experts say your bedroom should be like a cave – dark and cool. Endless research has shown that light impacts your sleep; one study involving 116 people found that when people were exposed to too much light in their room it more than halved the amount of sleep-inducing hormone melatonin they produced. “Make sure all the lights are turned off or reduce the number of lights prior to bedtime,” says Dr Breus. “If you read before bed, choose a paper book instead of an e-reader as they emit light that can stimulate your brain. Shut off all electronics: TV, computers and mobile phones. You might also want to consider packing blue-light-blocking glasses. The amber-coloured lenses help shut out blue light from your bedside lamp.” In fact, a study that gave people these glasses to wear for two weeks found they had a 58% increase in their night-time melatonin levels, helping them drop off. You can also go lo-fi; “eye masks are one of the best tools to overcome sleep problems,” says Beale.

Reading onboard

The importance of winding down

Getting yourself tired for bed is a great idea, so take advantage of onboard fitness offerings like Chi Ball Yoga and TRX, but time them to perfection. “Staying active can help speed the transition of your body clock and make you more prepared to sleep at your new bedtime,” says Dr Breus. “Whether that’s a brisk walk around the promenade, a tranquil yoga class, or a high-powered spin class, but avoid exercise within three to four hours of bedtime.” You could also treat yourself to a relaxing evening spa treatment in The Lotus Spa, to unwind and reduce tension as bedtime nears.

Lotus Spa Massage

If your partner is the cause of your disquiet, thanks to their snores, don’t let them ruin your rest. “Suggest a nasal spray for decongestion or a saline nasal wash. Stopping drinking alcohol three hours before bed can help, as alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat and nose, decreasing your natural defences against airway obstruction, which can lead to snoring,” says Dr Breus. Pack ear plugs with a noise-reduction rating (NRR) of 32, as well. “The average snore is about 85 decibels, so they will seriously help,” says Dr Breus. Alternatively, you can drown out distractions by listening to an ambient soundtrack on the Sleep channel in your stateroom. If, as you lay your head on the pillow, you find your mind whirring with everything you’ve done that day, practising mindfulness can help. “The Calm app offers a useful collection of sleep tools or you can listen to the guided meditation audio I’ve created on the Sleep channel,” says Dr Breus. Beale also recommends focusing on your breath for five minutes. “Simply noticing the movement of breath, the rise and fall of your chest and shoulders and its calming effect will help to quiet your mind.” We wait and look forward to holidays, so don’t let poor sleep spoil your fun. Make these tweaks to your routine and enjoy the most relaxing and rejuvenating break possible.

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About the Author

Laura Potter

Laura Potter

Laura started her career at The Observer Magazine, and has written for many of the UK's biggest publications. She has a passion for exploring other cultures, discovering local food trends and throwing herself into unique experiences, from kayaking on Lake Michigan to cheering on the riders at the Tour du Rwanda.

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