Vacations are supposed to be fun and relaxing, but, all too often, they become as tiring as a 60-hour work week. The reasons for fatigue while traveling can vary, but one of the most common culprits is easy to solve, but often forgotten, problem called sleep debt.
Generally speaking, eight hours is the recommended amount of sleep per night for the average adult. Some people might require more sleep while others can function with less, but a study done by the University of Pennsylvania in association with Washington State University used eight solid hours as its baseline, healthy amount of sleep. The study split subjects into three main groups: those who would get four, six, or eight hours of sleep per night for two weeks.
After fourteen days, the subjects who had eight hours of sleep per night had no notable cognitive decline, but those with only four hours of sleep experienced significant decline, and those getting six hours of sleep experienced notable decline as well. Lack of sleep “has a neurobiological cost which accumulates over time,” said the researchers.
One week into the study, a quarter of those in the six hour group were falling asleep at random intervals throughout the day, and, after two weeks, their mental and physical performance was the same level as if they had stayed up for 48 hours straight.
It’s interesting that these individuals had only ‘missed’ 28 hours of sleep over the two week period, but the detrimental effects of reduced sleep almost doubled in terms of impact on functioning.
Missing crucial hours of sleep can easily occur on a vacation or business trip. Whether it is a packed tour schedule full of unique and not-to-be-missed cultural experiences or days packed with important meetings and client dinners, there are plenty of reasons you may be awake for extended hours.
Here are three tips to maintain healthy sleep and avoid accruing a sleep debt while traveling:
- Settle short term sleep debt right away. If a busy week meant you got only 6 hours of sleep each night (resulting in a debt for the week of 10 hours), try to get an extra 4 hours one day on the weekend to feel fully recharged.
- If it is not possible to sleep for an extended period of time on one day, try to integrate an extra hour or so of sleep each day over the week following the busy one to help stave off fatigue.
- Avoid beginning your trip with a sleep debt. Plan a restful day after you arrive so that your body is able to get a few extra hours of sleep to make up for long plane flight and extra hours of wakefulness.
Do you have some tips for the best way to keep your sleep account full, even when on the road? Leave a comment to let us know how you avoid sleep debt!