Holidays are that special time of year where you get to eat loads of delicious foods, enjoy spending time with your relatives, pretend you enjoy spending time with those relatives, go Christmas caroling, watch your children dress up like turkeys and pilgrims at their school plays, hang Christmas lights, make gingerbread houses, clean your home, do this, do that, do those other things, go to office parties, do more, bake a pie, do something else, go gift shopping, do more, more, more....AHHHHHH!!
With all of these things to do and prepare for, it's a wonder that anybody ever gets any sleep between Thanksgiving and the new year. Those lines from "Twas the Night before Christmas" about children being nestled snug in bed dreaming about archaic candy, and how nothing in the house was stirring (including the rodents in your walls) are very misleading. Maybe the children and the mice are getting plenty of sleep during the holidays, but most adults are running themselves ragged trying to cram as much holiday cheer into each day as possible that they often lose a lot of sleep, leading them to be less Christmas cheery and a lot more Christmas grinchy.
There's no reason to let the holidays rob you of that sweet, deep slumber you not only crave, but need to make it through to the new year. Here are 9 sleep tips to help you sleep soundly through the holiday chaos.
1. Get ahead of the holidays
It's a well-known fact that the holidays are busy. There are so many things that need to be done to prepare for the joyous season: cleaning your home in anticipation of guests, gift shopping for all your friends and family, mailing out Christmas cards, going to work parties and social gatherings, taking kids to rehearsals for their school's holiday pageants and plays, studying for final exams, making flight and accommodation reservations, preparing giant feasts for your family, and many, many more things to get done.
And for all of the things we know we need to be prepared for, many of us have a tendency to put them off till the last minute. However, while procrastinating seems a simple solution at the time, it can really come back and bite us later. Before we know it, all of those chores and necessities build up and we are left with a huge list of things to do all at the same time leading to lots of stress. Stress is a huge cause of sleep deprivation, causing us to stay up late nights either finishing up last minute tasks, or staring at the ceiling late nights crushed under the weight of unfinished business.
To avoid stress and sleep deprivation, get a jump-start on your holiday planning. Make a list of things that need to be done before the Holidays begin and pencil those tasks into times on your calendar that you have free. Start with the most time consuming projects so they don't come back later to haunt your sleep. And if you still feel overwhelmed, get help...
2. Don't overload yourself
One of the beautiful things about the holidays is spending time with your family. Family members are great sources for love and support. And while the holidays are a great time to rejoice in the former, it's also a great time to make use of the latter. A family supports each other, and what better time to get the support you need than when you're particularly busy. Make the holiday tasks and chores a family affair. Get the kids to help with the cleaning or packing for the trips, have everybody pitch in on making dishes for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
You can even make shopping for the holidays fun by inviting your siblings, or distant relatives you don't get to spend much time with, along for the trip to the mall. You can make your holiday stress and sleep deprivation not only go away but turn it into family bonding experiences by getting everybody to help out.
3. Keep your regular sleep schedule
It's easy to feel like it's worth it to stay up late during the holidays to catch up with old friends and family from out of town, but those late nights can still wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. That's why, as hard as it may seem to do, you should keep your regular sleep schedule.
You want to spend every moment of the holidays bright eyed and bushy tailed, but that won't be possible if you're not getting your regular sleep. Sure, it's okay to stay up a little late during the holidays, but try to limit it to no more than an hour off of your regular schedule. Sleep deprivation can lead to mood and behavior changes, so if you don't want your family possibly seeing you turn into a grumpy old Scrooge get some good quality sleep.
If you're zipping across time zones faster than Santa on Christmas Eve, it can be much harder to keep your regular schedule as everybody else in the house will either be going to bed much earlier or later than yourself, depending on how far you've traveled. However, if you're only planning on staying a day or two, try and keep as close to your regular "back home" schedule as possible to keep your mini vacation from having too much of a negative impact on your regular sleep/wake patterns.
4. Don't stop exercising
Routine exercise is one of the greatest promoters of good, quality sleep. While it may be tempting to take a few days (or weeks) off your fitness routines, and put exercise off until it's time to make your New Year's resolution, don't do it. Exercise is not only great for the body, but the mind as well, and it can go a long way towards helping you keep your head clear of all your holiday stresses.
Even if you're traveling far from home to be with loved ones there's no need to stop exercising. In fact, the holidays are a great opportunity to not only bond over gym time, but to get out together and enjoy some new and exciting outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, and building snowmen and snow forts with the kids.
5. Don't overdo the snacking, especially at night.
This one may be one of the hardest tips on the list to stick to. After all, one of the best parts of the holidays is all of that delicious food. You've got your Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, yams, cookies, candies, a massive variety of pies and cakes, and even that inedible looking tube of cranberry sauce.
With all of these enticing dishes it's hard not to overfill yourself on meals and snacking throughout the day and putting off moderation until the New Year. However, when it comes to getting good sleep too much of certain types of foods can keep you from sleeping soundly through the night.
While your aunt's famous pecan pie may be tempting to go back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths, you should try cutting back, at least a little bit. Foods and drinks high in sugar and caffeine can keep you awake longer at night, and foods high in processed carbs can leave you feeling sluggish during the day. So while you're at the buffet-like dinner table, try loading up on more fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains.
Also, keep late night snacking to a minimum. There's nothing wrong with having a small snack before bed, but if you're stuffing yourself on stuffing right before bed it can make your body work harder break down all that food as you sleep. When your body has to focus more energy on processing all those gingerbread cookies, it takes away from your body repairing and refreshing itself during sleep. Late night snacking can also exacerbate your acid reflux, making getting to sleep or staying asleep difficult.
So what foods are best for a nighttime holiday snack? Try eating a small bowl of shredded wheat cereal in milk or cheese and crackers. Complex carbs, milk, and cheese are all great foods for promoting sleep. If there are some leftover sweet potatoes, go for those as sweet potatoes contain complex carbs as well as potassium which is a great muscle relaxant.
6. Don't overdo the alcohol
Your annual Christmas party is probably the only work function you truly enjoy, making it all the easier to loosen up with a few too many egg nogs, hot-buttered rums, or some other peppermint or cinnamon flavored hard beverage.
While it's true that alcohol makes you drowsy and can help you fall asleep faster, it also disturbs your rest and diminishes the quality of your sleep. Alcohol also decreases the amount REM sleep where dreaming occurs, memories are stored, and learning occurs.
Furthermore, alcohol can make already existing sleep disorders worse. If you have obstructive sleep apnea and have frequent stops or pauses in breathing during sleep, your symptoms can get worse from drinking. Alcohol relaxes your muscles, including those in your throat, allowing these muscles to more easily fall back into your airway during sleep and cause obstructions. Even if you don't have sleep apnea, alcohol can make you snore louder than an abominable snow monster (it's reported that they snore quite loudly) and disrupt your bed-partner's sleep.
If you do feel like having a few hot-buttered rums during the festivities, drink in moderation and try to avoid drinking altogether approximately 2-3 hours before bedtime for best results.
7. Power down before bedtime
To promote restful sleep it's best to have a relaxing bedtime routine. During the holidays, turn your typical bedtime routine into something enjoyable for the whole family. Instead of watching TV (which is bad for sleep anyways, see tip #8) try playing some games with the kids or engage in relaxing activities.
Board games are always a great family activity that encourages togetherness. Some great games to play are Monopoly (A Christmas Story edition), Settlers of Catan, Scrabble, Pictionary, Taboo, or whatever your family enjoys most.
Relaxing activities can include making gingerbread houses, hanging holiday decorations, reading Christmas books together, or helping the kids write their letters to Santa. It doesn't really matter what activities you do, as long as they're relaxing and not too over stimulating.
8. Turn off the electronics and the Christmas lights before bedtime
Television sets, computers, cell phones, e-readers, portable game systems, and other electronic devices emit a light similar to that of daylight. Our brains are tricked by the light as it associates it with daylight, which can cause a delay in the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. These devices also often contain stimulating content that keeps us awake wanting to consume more. The stimulating content and the deceptive light work together to keep us up later at night and lose some much-needed sleep when we wake at the same time as usual in the morning.
So while it may be tempting to stay up for the late showing of It's a Wonderful Life, it's a better idea to turn to some of the tips found in #7.
You should also turn off your outside Christmas lights at bedtime. Sure, you're the talk of the block with all of your Christmas decorations and you feel the need to stay competitive with Larry from across the street for whose house can best be seen from space, but all those bright lights might be shining through your windows and disrupting your family's sleep.
9. Get outside more
As mentioned in tip #4, the holidays are a great time to get in some outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, and even building a snowman. And while it's great for the exercise, getting outside into the light is also helpful for your circadian rhythm.
Your circadian rhythm reacts to the natural cycles of daylight and darkness and helps regulate your internal clock, which tells you when it's time for bed. Increasing your exposure to light during the day decreases your production of melatonin, and decreasing your exposure to light at night increases it's production leading to healthier, faster sleep at night.
With the days shorter during the winter months, it's all the more important to get outside often and soak up what little light is available. Seasonal affective disorder is a sleep disorder linked with a lack of daylight, so if you don't want to get the winter blues during the most joyous occasions of the year, get outside and build a snowman right now.
If you're still struggling with sleep after practicing these tips and maintaining good sleep practices, there's a chance your sleep troubles run a little deeper than you might think and may even be a medical disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with sleep, let The Alaska Sleep Clinic help you by scheduling a sleep study today, and make treatment for your disorder your New Year's Resolution.