Sleep problems in later life

Sleeping elsewhere

Many people told us they slept better when they were away from home, whether it was on holiday, staying with family or visiting friends. Some people thought there was no difference in how they slept, but that they sometimes found different ways to deal with their poor sleep when they were away. Only a few people said they slept less well than they normally do when they are away.
Those who told us that they always slept better when they went away gave several reasons for why this might be so. Several people explained that being away from the normal worries and stresses of everyday life helped them sleep better. Others felt it was because they were much busier when on holiday, going out and about, and generally being more physically active.

Margaret believes that sleep can be emotional, and connects you to your home and life. Being away...

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Age at interview: 72
Sex: Female
And how do you sleep when you’re away?
Better than I do in my own bed.
That’s interesting. Why do you think that is?
No idea.
From the minute you get there, the first night you sleep okay?
Yes. I never have a problem. I’ve hit the hay. In fact I can sleep the whole night through sometimes, you know, some of the time, we are going off to the [place] in a few week's time and I will expect to zonk out.
I just wonder whether this business of sleep is an emotional thing, you know, emotional touch, contacts with where you live and what happens in the house and in your life.
Hm. Could be.
You wonder don’t you. I mean when you are on holiday you are somebody else, you’re somebody different, you’re somewhere else, you know, you still eat and do all the other stuff, but it’s different.
Yes, there is something about sleep isn’t there that it’s a large part of your life you can’t stop doing it and yet if you don’t get it?
In a way when you go on holiday you go on holiday from everything.
That is true?
Your whole life. You can’t do anything about the things that are worrying you.
Some people have different ways, but some people sleep worse when they’re away?
Yes. Yes. So I understand. 

Being busy whilst on holiday and just getting away from normal everyday life helps Anne with sleep.

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Age at interview: 71
Sex: Female
And when you’re on holiday do you sleep any differently?
Yes. I sleep much better on holiday. We have just come back from the Isle of Wight. Very wet and windy week. And I did sleep yes. I was much better. So …but then the day time was different I think.
In what way was it different?
Well I mean we were busy going out places and we did a lot of eating during the …and of course being in a hotel you don’t need to watch what you’re drinking for driving and things like that, so it’s very artificial really. And it is different.
But you managed to sleep?
Quite well yes.
What was the difference then? Was it that you were able to get to sleep or that you stayed asleep?
I still read when I went to bed, but when the light went off I would fall asleep and then I’d wake but because it was different sounds I seemed to be able to lie there and not worry so much and eventually go off again. I was only awake about twenty minutes, half an hour. So it was lovely.
So there was no getting up and wandering around?
No. well just going to the bathroom and that was all.
And is that your normal experience of being away?
Being away on holiday yes. I do sleep better.
That’s the answer then?
Go away on holiday all the time. I like that. I like that.  
Being somewhere quieter than they are used to was one reason for sleeping better when away from home. Sue B. told us she slept much better at her husband’s house in France because it was in a quiet location, and John noticed that when it was really quiet in Florence he slept very well. But often people told us they thought it was a combination of factors, such as a change in routine, being active and being away from problems.

John found that being on holiday made him feel more relaxed and helped with his poor sleep.

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Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
I was just thinking then in terms of if you were away or if you were on your own whether you would change what you do or whether your sleep changes. Say if you go away on holiday…?
Funny you should say that. I was about to say we went to Florence, was it Florence.. we have been to France a few times. Paris or Euro Disney. Now I slept better – now in the summer they have these black out curtains and there is no noise at all. It was absolutely weird, it was Florence you couldn’t hear a thing. A bit of traffic. Jets you can here very, very, in the background. But I slept right through until seven. Because when you get back, I mean there is not a lot to do late at night in a place like Florence. I mean you can go to a restaurant, you come home, walk around and then you get back about half past ten. Go to bed and I am, I am away, eleven o’clock, seven. It's amazing that sleep when I am away. Someone said something about the bed, ought to be north/south, I said north/south? Yes, it is the magnetic, something to do with the magnetic pole, I did actually once have the bed that way, it didn’t seem to make any difference, I don’t whether it is a factor but unfortunately we can’t do that in our bedroom, because we would be lopsided. It has got to go the way it goes. It just wouldn’t make any sense to have it any other way. But that isn’t north/south, it's west/east. So…
Did you sleep well in Florence the first night, or right from the first night?
Oh yes more or less every… well not as good as that but mostly at least seven hours.
And other places I have been where it has been a different environment, totally different environment, don’t ask me why. Maybe because we did a lot of walking around, maybe that was a factor I don’t know. Maybe because you are on holiday you unwind, you have got a different attitude you can disappear, any problems you have got you leave behind. You do, you tend to walk away into a totally different environment. Maybe that's a factor.
Its difficult isn’t it because you just don’t know what changes, but I think it’s interesting a lot of people do report their sleep either gets a lot of people do report their sleep, either gets a lot worse or a lot better?
I have never had worse sleep on holiday apart from the last night when you have to get up early in the morning to get the flight but the first night you sleep well because you have had a long day. I think that is natural. But I find my sleep patterns out of this country have been generally quite good.
We have been in the States. We have been in Europe. 
Anne explained that whilst she did sleep better when she was away on holiday, she had mixed feelings about sleeping at someone else’s house. At her sister’s house, for example, she felt she couldn’t get up as early as she would normally like to in case she disturbed everyone, but at the same time because she wasn’t in her own home she didn’t feel pressured to be up doing household chores.
Holidays and times away were seen as very important, and for those who slept better away from home this was especially true. However those who slept less well whilst they were away, sometimes felt less like being away from the familiarity of their home.
Several people told us they slept less well when they were away because they didn’t have their own familiar, bed or bedding. Mary finds it difficult sleeping when she is away for several reasons. At home she finds if she is too hot or too cold she can’t sleep, and whereas she can alter the heating in her own home, it is difficult to get the temperature right in hotels. Mary and her husband are used to sleeping in single beds at home, and when they have to share a double bed in a hotel, she doesn’t sleep very well. Just being away from home for some people was enough to disturb their sleep more than it already was disturbed, without any specific reason.

Even though Jacqui used to travel a lot with her job as a Stewardess, she still finds it...

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
So how do you sleep when you’re away?
Not very well. I am not good at sleeping.
Even with your pillow?
No, no.
What happens when you’re away?
I don’t know. On Saturday I was so tired. I went to my daughter’s hen night.
Oh is she getting married?
Yes. And I went in this nice hotel in London. But I was in a single bed, so there was nowhere to go and every time I turned over I was going to fall out. Just different environment, most peculiar. Light I have to have a dark room. A really dark room. I’m not very good with light. So I’m quite neurotic really when you think about it.
And you mentioned you travel?
I did travel in my past life yes.
And how did you sleep then?
I think that was, I used to sleep really well. I was a stewardess and I used to sleep really well until I became a stewardess and because of the early hours and getting up in the middle of the night and working and all that sort of thing, it altered my sleeping pattern and I was an insomniac for quite a while.
Right. Now that’s interesting?
Really bad. 

Daniel and his wife always sleep badly when they go away, and now take a sleeping tablet on the...

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Age at interview: 78
Sex: Male
What about when you go away how do you sleep if you go away anywhere?
Well whenever we go away its always been the same hasn’t it. That for both of us the first night, however comfortable the bed is we can’t sleep. I won’t say can’t sleep of course we must sleep but it’s not something we look forward to and we always take a sleeping tablet to counteract that so that is something that we do. But it’s only then that we do that on a general basis.
And then after that you sleep as you would do normally?
Not always. Not always.
Oh okay.
It’s hard to generalise. I can think of friends of ours where we go and there is two single beds that I suppose are quite comfortable but I don’t think either of us sleep much do we. 
For those who have health problems which hinder their mobility, going away brings extra problems and plans need to be made to cater for that. Juliet, who lives in a bungalow, explained how she had to sleep on a sofa downstairs in a cottage where she stays because she couldn’t easily climb the stairs to go to bed.

Juliet has a special bed to help with her Rheumatoid Arthritis and tends to have very short,...

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
I mean I am not completely housebound at all. And it is strange I would have thought in the logical process of life that going out for a day and struggling round a National Trust building which I love, I don’t go up the stairs, but they have got all these albums and things, wonderful. I would have thought that I would come home and sleep very well at night. I never do, the night I have been out, I get a lot of pain in my legs. It takes a couple of nights, and then I will probably have a good night. It doesn’t seem to work the way…
It might tire you out but …?
It tires you out but it causes me more aggro. Yes that is right.
What about when you are away. Does the same thing happen if you are on holiday or whatever?
Well in fact we don’t take conventional, we are a very odd pair. We have never been actually that keen on holidays. We used to take, obviously the children away. But we are not that bothered. We are going up to [place] at half term to see our son and we are staying in a Travel Lodge then, but the other place I go away mainly, or we go away, is to this friend of mine who has been unwell this year. She and her husband have a cottage in Somerset. And we are going down there in September with two old friends who we have met in the last year and I sleep there actually sitting on the sofa, well the stairs, I can’t get up the stairs. They are huge you know, sort of slate stairs and I actually sleep quite well there. And I do find that, this is one of the reasons why I am not too bothered about holidays, but three or four days of that and I have had enough and it is not the rest that everybody says holidays should be. I have always been a bit like that. Well of both us actually have always said a week, two or three days, a week plus two or three days was more than enough. I am a bit of a home bird I think really and it is all to do with familiarity I think.
Have you never slept better when you have been away from home?
No I don’t relax. I am not very good at relaxing although at that cottage I do sleep really quite well. And when we are on holiday at our friends, I mean they are our age as well, so none of you are getting up at the crack of dawn any more. No one is rushing off too the office, so it doesn’t really matter. Well we will have a plan and we will go out for a day and we will do things, but I do find going out is really quite stressful if it is a whole day out. Using disabled, toilets for the disabled which is one of my big, big grumbles. About the way they only put rails and they don’t, mine here is lifted up it is on a platform and I don’t need anything to help me get off it because it is raised. And you know, the constant sort of finding a car park, finding a … I have got a disabled parking sticker, all that sort of thing is actually quite stressful and doesn’t necessarily make for a restful time, but I do sleep on that sofa at the cottage very well, because it is very comfortable and… 
Some people told us they didn’t notice any difference in their sleep when they were away - if they tossed and turned at home, they would carry on doing that while they were away. But what did change for them is how they managed their disturbed sleep. If they were staying in a hotel for example, they weren’t always able to get up and make a cup of tea, or get on with household chores. Staying with family or friends also meant they might not be able to get up very early in the morning and come downstairs, in case they disturbed others in the house.

Normally Val listens to her radio when she can’t sleep, but has to find different things to...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
How do you sleep when you are away, if you stay in London or…?
No different than in my home.
Exactly the same. So you go to bed and toss and turn?
Then I miss the radio.
What do you do instead?
I just get up. If I am in a hotel, because we went over to Las Vegas in November and I just got up and went down and played on the machines. So 3 o’clock in the morning I am down playing the machines.
You still got up in the morning?
But I still got up at 6 o’clock.
And carried on as normal?
There aren’t many things you can do in the night?
Well it depends doesn't it, because if I go to London, which I do go up to my son and daughter-in-law a lot. I don’t… because they have got an alarm and if you go downstairs, and I always forget the number to press… so I don’t go downstairs when I am up there but I read. I just sit up and read and I read for a couple of hours and then I will drift off. 

Last reviewed October 2018.

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