Despite being a favorite time of year for many people, for some, the holiday season tends to be filled with added stress and lost sleep. If you’re one of those individuals, you’re far from alone. But let us reassure you – there are ways to cope! If you’re struggling to get some shuteye this time of year, there are many simple steps you can take to rest peacefully once again.
During the period from October – December, the pressures of holiday commitments can pile on and cause additional stress in our lives. Some of the most common causes of this particular type of stress are:
If these types of seasonal changes seem all too familiar, it’s possible you'll notice an impact on your sleep quality.
While sleep should always be a priority, it’s especially important during times of high stress. With enough quality sleep, you’ll be better prepared to make good decisions, regulate negative emotions, and even maintain your physical health, too. During the holiday season, this helps you coordinate travel plans, navigate social situations, budget for gifts, or even resist the holiday dessert table.
There are several ways to reduce holiday related stress and give extra attention to maintaining good sleep habits during this time of year.
Have you spread yourself too thin between attending events, hosting guests, or coordinating activities for the family? This is the time to get comfortable with the word “no”. If an overwhelming calendar or growing to-do list is causing you undue stress, find ways to offload some of those commitments. Decline the office Christmas party. Ask your partner or a friend for help with the things that must get done – like gift wrapping or meal prepping. There's no shame in calling in a lifeline, especially if extra responsibilities are keeping you up at night.
With indulgent foods seemingly everywhere you look, it can be hard to practice portion control during the holiday months. But eating large amounts of sugary or fatty foods, especially late in the evening, can negatively affect your sleep quality. While it’s completely fine to enjoy your favorite holiday treats, try to balance them out with more wholesome, unprocessed options where you can.
Your body will need to work overtime to digest a big meal, so try to eat your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime so your sleep isn’t affected.
Consider this one more reason to go easy on those cocktails. While it’s true that alcohol can make it easier for some people to wind down and fall asleep, due to the way it metabolizes, it can affect your ability to stay asleep later in the night. To keep the holiday drinks from disrupting your nighttime sleep, it’s best to follow the same rules you would for food — consume alcohol in moderation and well before bedtime.
If your nighttime sleep has been lacking and you’re consuming lots of heavy meals or sweets, naps can be all too tempting. But it might be best to resist the urge depending on the circumstances. If you’ve just eaten, try to wait it out an hour or two before shutting your eyes. Also, we recommend power napping earlier in the day, and for only about 20 minutes so your nighttime sleep isn’t affected.
Regular exercise can prevent you from feeling sluggish during the day. It also gives your body the sense of routine it needs to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
If your schedule is especially jam-packed, set reasonable goals for your workouts. Your usual one hour at the gym may not be feasible right now, but something like a 30-minute walk around the block can be a practical and effective alternative.
Now is the time to pay special attention to keeping things as normal as possible. A regular routine where you eat, exercise, and sleep around the same times each day is what helps you maintain a good circadian rhythm and quality sleep. So, try your best to minimize late nights or sleeping in on the days you may have off from work.
Traveling over different time zones puts you at even greater risk of losing sleep from jetlag. If you can, plan ahead for the time change by gradually adjusting your bedtime and waketime closer to what it will be once you arrive at your destination. And once you get there, do your best to follow the clock locally.
Though times may be hectic, don’t put yourself last on the priority list. If you've never set aside moments for “me time”, start now! Taking just 20 minutes each day to practice self-care can reduce your stress levels and recharge you mentally.
If you’re lost for ideas, here are a few suggestions. Try out whichever speaks to you!
Anytime you’re losing sleep, it’s helpful to take a look at your sleep environment and adjust where necessary.
Invest in a comfortable mattress and bedding. Ensure the room you sleep in is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature (somewhere in the range of 60 – 67 degrees Fahrenheit). If you must, use an eye mask, blackout curtains, or a sound machine to help block out light and sound. And turn off blue light-emitting electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime.
If you’re staying out of town, whether at a relative’s house or in a hotel, try to bring along some comforts of home that can help you mimic your own bedroom. Sleeping in an unfamiliar place can cause restlessness, so adhering to your set sleeping hours and creating a cozy “home away from home” can make all the difference.
With a little practice, dreams can actually be used as a tool for self-improvement.
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