Whenever holidays are around the corner, I start daydreaming. Will I be enjoying a swim in a hotel pool? Will I fly out of the country? Will I hike up lesser-known paths and wash down local dishes with fresh juices? It all sounds quite lovely in theory, however, I will be doing none of that. My holiday goal is just to get some shuteye.
I’ve even spent my last two holidays outside the UAE, like an alarm on snooze. Five more minutes. Two more minutes. On one such holiday, even the verdant landscape of Salalah, a city in Oman, did not beckon. Nestled in my hotel room, I spent most of my vacation days curled up with starch-white linens and satin pillows.
It seemed peculiar at first, however, now I that I’m used to spending my holidays this way, I even look for hotel reviews that say: This hotel is nice, if you just want to sleep.
My kind of ideal.
Welcome to sleep tourism
Armed with room service and a do-not-disturb sign on the door, my last two vacations consisted of nothing but sleeping.
I thought I was just being lazy. I started to believe that maybe I was unadventurous. However, this practice of taking long siestas throughout the holidays is part of a bigger trend called sleep tourism, which became popular over the past seven years. It’s when people go on holidays and check in to specially designed hotels to catch up on some sleep.
The trend began in 2015 when hotels offered travellers a chance to ‘sleepover’ in suites that promised unique experiences.
Travel magazine, Lonely Planet once published an article, the world’s most extraordinary sleepovers written by Abigail Blasi, which describes how some resorts opened up suites for sleepovers in rooms that are underwater, some in dinosaur museums! Today, most travel writers call it a vacation niche.
Such hotels wanted their guests to ‘spend a night in comfort,’ but then go sightseeing in the day. However, I went a step ahead and made the sleepover trend into a sleep-only trend. Instead of specially-designed suites or sleep spas, I make do with regular hotels.
Sometimes, even a short weekend getaway can become a sleep-in destination in a nearby resort. Like in the case of Emirati Air traffic control assistant, Mohammed Butti, who explains that sleeping well, when there’s a holiday, is key.
Sometimes I work night shifts and I can't sleep well the next day because of all the noise and distraction at home. When I’m on a holiday where I just sleep, I can do so without any sources of noise like my mobile phone or my children distracting me.
“Sometimes I work night shifts and I can't sleep well the next day because of all the noise and distraction at home. When I’m on a holiday where I just sleep, I can do so without any sources of noise like my mobile phone or my children distracting me. Getting enough sleep is important to me because it revives me and helps my mind and body align.”
Dubai-based Yemeni expat, Yousef Ahmed Al Dhafer, believes that it’s important to disconnect and get rest during the holidays. He finds that even going on a holiday, especially to a new location can be stressful as it requires an itinerary, research and coordination with others.
Holidays should be the opposite of work. I feel a lot of pressure to go sightseeing when all I want to do is to just switch off my devices and rest. That’s why, during my last summer holiday... I chose to stay off my phone and I slept the whole day, on most days.
“Holidays should be the opposite of work. I feel a lot of pressure to go sightseeing too when all I want to do is to just switch off my devices and rest. That’s why during my last summer holiday in August, I decided it was time to change my routine. I chose to stay off my phone and I slept the whole day, on most days. I deliberately disconnected from technology and I paused all my emails and messages. After I woke up from this long nap, it felt like I had reconnected with myself. After these naps I would feel fresh and feel more connected to other people around me and my surroundings. Resting well, while being on holidays, work well for me because even if I want to rest at home, I have trouble detaching from my phone which interrupts my sleep cycle.”
Long naps on long weekends
Instead of traveling to a destination to get some rest, Roshan Gomes a 29 year-old Indian account manager, who is based in Dubai, explains how taking siestas throughout long weekends helps him feel rejuvenated.
I was working long hours without taking any days off. Then there was a long weekend coming up. On that weekend, I slept throughout the day and night. This sleep that I had during the holidays helped me get back on track. It made me feel fresh and I felt stress-free after that.
“I had a lot of stress due to a situation at work. I was working long hours without taking any days off. Then there was a long weekend coming up. On that weekend, I slept throughout the day and night. I woke up to have some food and then continued to sleep. I really needed that break to rejuvenate before the next week began. This sleep that I had during the holidays helped me get back on track. It made me feel fresh and I felt stress-free after that.”
Is it healthy for mind and body?
According to Fakiha Mubarak Khan, clinical psychologist at Openminds Center in Dubai, a good night’s rest is as essential as having enough water or food throughout the day.
Having less amount of sleep for long durations, like a whole week and making up for it during the weekend or on holidays is like hydrating yourself only on the weekend.
“Having less amount of sleep for long durations, like a whole week and making up for it during the weekend or on holidays is like hydrating yourself only on the weekend. In fact, there is no scientific evidence to show the health benefits of taking long duration sleep on holidays.”
You work hard. You deserve to have time away from it all. However, it’s important to ask yourself why you are not getting enough sleep at home.
Sometimes, the solution to get enough sleep may not require a planned holiday. It can be as simple as getting rid of distractions like using mobile phones, while being in bed.
Dr Waleed Ahmed, a psychiatrist from Priory Wellbeing in Dubai says that catching up on sleep over the weekends and holidays is something that happens fairly frequently in today’s ever-connected and complicated work schedules.
“I see some children in my clinic also who do this, sacrificing sleep for meeting study and project deadlines and sometimes to catch up with friends during the week and sleeping long hours over the weekend. It is probably not bad if one did it once in a while, but making a habit of this is not recommended.”
Catching up on some sleep during the holidays is still better than chronic sleep deprivation, where there is no catching up of sleep, at all.
According to Dr Ahmed, catching up on some sleep during the holidays is still better than chronic sleep deprivation, where there is no catching up of sleep, at all.
Adults need about seven to eight hours of sound sleep and being sleep deprived means you’re not getting enough of it. If you are sleep deprived, then you may experience these symptoms, says Khan.
• When people are talking to you, you tend to doze off
• You’re absent-minded when you’re going about your tasks
• You feel tired and sleepy throughout the day
• You feel moody and you may be easily irritated
While nothing beats a relaxing, sleepy holiday, sometimes, taking time off to can be challenge. However, there are ways to improve the quality of your sleep even at home.
How to get enough sleep at home
“It may sound difficult and like a list of things to do, but you have to schedule it,” says Khan.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time. Even though you’ve not been getting enough sleep it takes about two-three days to get back to normal sleep cycles, she advises. Have dinner one to three hours before dinner time and avoid caffeine and sugary deserts before going to bed.
Meanwhile, Dr Ahmed advises that you can make your room comfy and dark to sleep better. Pay attention to the temperature and noise levels for a comfortable siesta and use blackout curtains where possible.
Experts say that it’s better to keep devices away, however, some can benefit from listening to a “sleep cast” or a podcast that offers gentle guided meditation and wind-down pieces that one can listen to, to fall asleep.
If you are struggling to sleep for more than half an hour and find yourself worrying about it, get out of bed and do something dull like writing, or reading a magazine for 10 to 15 minutes and get back into bed to try again.
If you do have to work, before bed time then try and change the settings of your screen to “night mode” where available.