Lunenberg togetherI just got back from a three- week trip to Canada, and I slept fabulously most of the time. Insomnia caught up with me just two nights out of 20. That’s as good as it gets.

Sleep doctors claim that people with insomnia often sleep better on vacation. “Of course you slept better on your trip,” I can imagine them saying sagely. “You were away from life stressors, you were away from your bed and your worries about sleep. Why wouldn’t you sleep better in places where anxiety hasn’t taken root?”

I’ve never completely accepted this explanation for my luck with sleep on trips. “Insomnia isn’t just a matter of context,” I imagine replying to those learned doctors. “I take my anxiety about sleep with me wherever I go, thank you very much!”

I have a different explanation for why I slept so well as we traveled through Canada. It lies in my husband and travel companion, whose idea of a good vacation is dawn-to-dusk activity and who—true to his nature as a firstborn—likes to direct the show.

Traveling Together

Don’t misunderstand: Eric and I are mostly in agreement about the nature of our trips. Active vacations are the kind we prefer. For road trips we pack along hiking shoes, bicycles, and bathing suits. We’d much rather take a walk or visit a museum than simply lie on a beach.

Where we differ is in the amount of activity we like. Eric has tons of stamina and endurance, and he moves into overdrive the minute we leave home.

  • Stop at a roadside motel because we’re getting hungry and sick of driving? Why spend a night along an ugly stretch of highway when in 45 minutes we could stop in town and take a bike ride before we eat?!
  • Take the metro to the botanical garden when it’s just a few miles away from the hotel? We could as easily walk (never mind that we’ll be on our feet for the rest of the day)!
  • Relax after an afternoon hike over hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of wine? But there’s still plenty of light outside. This is the perfect time for a swim!

You get my drift. While I like to insert some R & R in between activities, Eric never winds down.

Negotiating Plans

We have words about the pace we keep from time to time. I’m a firstborn too, and relinquishing directorship of the program doesn’t come easily to me, either. Occasionally my pitch for the R & R prevails, and other times I crack open a book and let Eric work off his energy by himself.

But, traveling with a partner, you’re together 24/7, cooped up in the same car and the same hotel room and dependent on each other in so many ways. On vacation it’s harder for me to resist getting sucked into the Eric vortex, as my sister aptly describes it. I go and do and see more than I would if I were traveling on my own.

The upside to this arrangement is its hypnotic effect on my sleep. By 11 or 12 my book has fallen to the floor and I’m out cold for the rest of the night. (Insomnia? What was that about?)

The downside is the exhaustion I return to at the end of these trips. You’ve heard of having to recover from a vacation? I’m there right now.

How does going on vacation typically affect your sleep?

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

4 Comments

  1. Geoff Biringer July 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

    I agree about the wonderful sleep during vacations. My trick, when home and struggling with sleep, is to imagine myself at the Hiawatha Sportsmen’s Club in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, listening to the rain on the metal roof at night. Works almost all the time!

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  2. That sounds like a great memory, Geoff, and a good strategy for use at night. Focus on an image of a place that recalls a soothing sound track. We should all have something like that!

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    1. Lois, just read your book and now I don’t feel so alone. You validated and took the shame away from my problem. I’m going to keep this book in plain sight and this way, I am reminded there are others going through the suffering. I’ve often thought a support group for insomniacs would be helpful; I found it in your book.
      I also sleep very well on trips and believe it or not, your description of your husband sounds like mine; we are on the run…. we’re in our 60’s!
      Thank you and it’s nice to meet you!
      Linda

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      1. Hi Linda,

        Thanks so much for the compliments about my book! I’m glad it made you realize you’re not the only one with trouble sleeping, and that insomnia is not a disorder to feel ashamed of. The causes are many, including predispositions people are either born with or develop early in life. It’s as deserving of attention and treatment as migraines or asthma or any chronic disorder that interferes with a person’s quality of life.

        It’s interesting that you bring up the topic of support groups for people with insomnia. After I went through group CBT for insomnia, I started a support group for people who’d gone through therapy with me and insomniacs I’d gotten to know through the interviews I conducted for my book. Attendance was pretty good at the first few meetings. But something I noticed right away was that some people came with the assumption that their sleep problem was a given—there to stay—and wanting to find ways to accommodate to it. Others came eager to figure out ways to improve their sleep (and ready with suggestions for those who simply accepted that their sleep problem was there to stay). The two types sort of talked past one another. Eventually attendance fell off and the group disbanded.

        If you do ever get a support group for insomniacs together I’ll be interested to hear how it fares.

        Thanks again for writing in, and best of luck with your sleep!

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