Having more sleep before holiday 'stops arguments'

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News family and education correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

If you want to avoid arguments on a family holiday, make sure you get some extra sleep in the days before you travel, a psychologist advises.

Linda Blair, an author of books about parenting and calmness, says that, rather than planning to catch up sleep while on holiday, you should actually aim to nap more than usual in the days before you leave.

The psychologist says a key reason for holiday arguments is that people are so "shattered" and irritable by the time they leave home.

It might seem the wrong way round, but she says extra sleep before the holidays can help to prevent frayed tempers when you finally get away.

Emotionally fragile

These are the peak weeks for holidays, with the travel trade expecting more than 30 million people to be heading for the motorways, trains, airports and ferries over the summer.

But there is plenty of potential for a holiday to turn into a shouting match.

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Ms Blair says a major pressure point is that by the time we pull on our holiday clothes and sunglasses we're already burned out.

The effort to clear the decks at work and get organised for the trip can leave us exhausted and emotionally fragile, says Ms Blair.

"Everyone gets so tired in the run-up to a holiday," she says, and they begin their journey stressed and sleep-deprived rather than relaxed.

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The psychologist says the combustible pressure of a family holiday is "very like Christmas", where family members find themselves cooped up together.

"If you crowd any mammals, they get aggressive," she says, warning that it is important for everyone on a family holiday to feel they have enough personal space.

Ms Blair says it can take four days to start unwinding from work and to ease into a more relaxed mood.

She also says if you want to avoid arguments with teenage children on holiday, then parents need to avoid over-planning and organising every minute of the family's time away.

"They don't always have to see the cathedral," she says.

Hell is other people?

But there are plenty of reasons why arguments are still going to happen.

It's not just the stress of early morning flights and wi-fi withdrawal symptoms, according to Twitter and our audience on Facebook, holiday hell is other people.

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On Twitter, Paul H says family holidays are for "fun, food, music and drunken arguments about something that happened 35 years ago".

"Starting every holiday with a family argument for 15 years..," writes Teacher Glitter.

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Kathryn Dixon, on the BBC Family Facebook page, remembers that "my parents took myself and my three brothers to France for a holiday. One of my brothers refused to wear shorts and the temperature was scorchingly high. After two days of arguing about how he would overheat in big baggy jeans, when my brother fell asleep she cut all his jeans into shorts".

'It's about the money'

"More often than not, it's about money," says Leeann Townsend. "Where is it all coming from? My partner just wants a nice family holiday, but I have to think of how much it all costs and what we can afford. That causes arguments."

Another parent had some advice following a visit to a sweet factory and gift shop in France. "When on holiday, make sure your autistic child does not smuggle a 2.5kg bag of blue smurfs into the back of the car then eat most of them... then proceed to scream, kick your chair, sing, argue with siblings until the sugar rush came crashing down. Only took several hours."

But according to the Association of British Travel Agents, "multi-generation holidays" are becoming more popular, with people using their holidays "to spend time with their extended family".

"Foreign package holidays continue to be a popular choice, particularly with families, with almost three-quarters of those with children over the age of five choosing this option because it means everything is taken care of," said an Abta spokeswoman.

This might even remove some of the "common stressors which can cause arguments", she said.