3 Tips to Keep Your Sleep on Track Over the Holidays
Updated: Jul 8
The trick for getting through the holidays with your sleep intact is to ensure you eat and drink the right foods, keep your stress level in check, and stick to your normal sleep schedule.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
There is little research about food and your sleep, but there is some evidence that certain foods can be more sleep inducing, while others can disrupt sleep.
Of course, we all know eating a big turkey dinner leaves us napping on the couch, but that pumpkin pie can have the opposite effect. Foods high in sugar raise our blood sugar levels and when our blood sugar is elevated, the kidneys work harder to eliminate the excess sugar by producing urine. So, to keep yourself from making too many trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night, make sure you eat that pie earlier in the day to give your body time to regulate itself, then have a turkey bun an hour or two before bedtime to enjoy the sleep-inducing qualities of the complex carbohydrates and tryptophan combo.
It’s also a good idea to be careful about the amount of alcohol you drink over the holidays. Alcohol is a sleep inhibitor and despite the fact that it often puts you to sleep deeply in the early part of the night, as the withdrawal effects wear off during the night, your sleep becomes much lighter, resulting in more disrupted sleep.
Alcohol suppresses deep sleep and dream sleep, the two most important sleep stages of sleep. This lack of dream sleep early in the night results in rebound REM sleep. When your brain is deprived of REM sleep, even if only for a matter of hours, it compensates by boosting the duration of REM sleep later in the night. During this rebound state, dreams are often more intense and can result in nightmares. Since this happens later in the night when your sleep naturally becomes lighter, you are more likely to wake from these dreams.
The first thing you can do to ensure you continue to get your rest during the holidays is to remember to moderate your alcohol intake and eat the right foods at the right time of day.
Stress, Nature’s Red Bull
There’s no doubt that stress keeps you awake at night and this year has given us its share of things to worry about. The most important thing you can do to get through the holidays with your sleep intact is to keep your stress level in check. This year’s holiday season is a lot different than usual. Normally, I would be talking about dealing with the stress of spending so much time with family, but this year you’ll likely be dealing with isolation from family and worries about COVID.
Stress is really hard on your body and most people are dealing with ongoing and chronic stress. In this state, the hormone cortisol (the stress hormone) starts to build up in your system and it causes a host of problems you normally associate with lack of sleep. These problems include an inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, decreased problem-solving abilities, slower metabolism, poor sleep, and a weakened immune system.
Stress can also lead to depression. If you add that to the uncertainties of COVID and isolation from family and friends during a time when you normally celebrate with them, the need for stress-relieving activities is higher than ever.
There are a number of things you can do to help relieve your stress. The obvious ones are exercise, yoga, or meditation. Another way you can relieve stress is to watch a good comedy. Laughing out loud lightens your mood and changes your body. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter improves oxygen flow, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. It also stimulates circulation and encourages muscle relaxation which will help reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
You can also play games, try your hand at art or colouring books, build a puzzle, or even bake a new recipe. All these activities will help take your mind off the things that are bothering you and thus allow you to get a better night’s rest with less worries on your mind.
Is Your Sleep On Time, Delayed, or Cancelled?
We all fall into some bad habits when we have extended time off. For many, that includes sleeping in, staying up late, or even staying out all night. But to keep your sleep intact for when it’s time to get back to the hustle and grind, you’ll be glad you stuck to your regular sleep schedule during the holidays.
I know how hard it is to get up early when you don’t have to. But when you sleep in, your circadian rhythm gets started late, and that sets back your night by the same amount of time making it harder to go to sleep at the right time. This is a similar effect to jet lag.
When you continue this pattern over a number of days, you will have to retrain yourself to get back on track when it’s time to get back to work. And training yourself to get up earlier is a lot harder than letting yourself sleep in.
If you already have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, constantly changing your sleep schedule weakens your sleep system and strengthens the wakefulness system. The wakefulness system is dominant for about 16 hours and the sleep system is dominant for about 8 hours – so first things first, make sure you are not in bed for more than 8 hours or your wakefulness system will not have enough time to do its job.
The wakefulness system is still active at night evaluating what is occurring around you, like the sound of the dripping faucet or the covers falling off, to determine if it needs to respond to the situation. When you have trouble sleeping, the sleep system becomes weak and the wakefulness system becomes more active, making you more susceptible to nighttime awakenings. Keeping your sleep schedule as close to normal as possible will not only make it easier for you to get back to normal activities when the holidays are over but also support your sleep-wake system for getting better rest.
Wrap it Up With a Bow
To keep yourself and your sleep intact after the holidays, remember that certain foods like turkey and bread can help you sleep, while others, such as pie, are not so good for getting your zzzz’s and alcohol is very disruptive unless you want to have more intense dreams or even nightmares.
Dealing with the stress of a COVID holiday season is going to be challenging. But engaging in some stress-relieving activities like exercise, building a puzzle, or watching a good, laugh-out-loud comedy, can do wonders for your mood and health.
Lastly, sticking to your sleep schedule doesn’t sound like fun but it will help keep your circadian rhythm in sync and make it so much easier to get back to your regularly scheduled programming.
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