• Lana Walsh

8 Little Known Factors That Could Affect Your Sleep Over the Holidays

Updated: Jul 8

Do you find it hard to get "back to normal" after the holidays? These eight things could be disrupting your regular sleep schedule making it difficult to get back on track in January.


Alcohol

Once upon a time, doctors prescribed a nightcap as an insomnia fix. But today we know that alcohol can disrupt your sleep. Sure, after a few drinks, you may pass out and sleep, what feels like the dead, for a few hours, but then you'll start to experience a cycle of light sleep and dream sleep that will have you prone to waking and feeling a little worse for wear the next day. Instead, be careful to limit your alcohol intake to one or two to minimize the effect on your sleep.


Staying Up Late and Sleeping In

It's so easy to fall for this trap! It's the holidays. There's no reason to get out of bed early. And there are so many reasons to stay up late! But changing your sleep schedule and sleeping in is one of the worst mistakes people make when they have time off (or even on the weekends). This really disrupts your natural circadian rhythm which runs on a 24-hour clock. One hour of sleeping in will make it difficult to go to sleep that night because you've pushed your clock back by an hour. If you do it consistently for several days in a row and you try to go back to your regular sleep schedule to get back to work, you will have essentially given yourself jet lag. Avoid the pain and stick to your regular bedtime and wake time.


Stress

You may know that stress is the number one reason people can't sleep and the holiday season has its share of stress-inducing moments. From overspending (or maybe that will come with the VISA bill in January) to spending time with family (or away from family if you're unable to travel), there are a lot of ways stress can rear its ugly head during the season. Stress activates the hormone cortisol which increases heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and brain waves which makes it extra hard to relax and sleep. Not to mention the "monkey brain" that comes with reliving and replaying the events that cause stress.



Napping

Do you have to have the post-turkey nap? As nice as it is to have a nap, that could also disrupt your sleep. I highly encourage naps, especially if you had a bad night, but there are some definite rules to follow so it doesn't impact your night. First, keeping naps under 45 minutes will ensure you don't get into a deep sleep which makes it harder to wake and you'll feel groggier. Second, you don't want to nap after 4 pm. Napping too late into the evening can have an effect on your ability to go to sleep at night.


Late Night Snacking

The holidays are full of late-night events with a plethora of food. Do you find yourself standing at the snack/buffet table just nibbling all night long? Some foods, like bread and turkey, can help you go to sleep, while others can have the opposite effect. Protein, for example, blocks the synthesis of serotonin, which makes you feel more alert. Some foods can produce other symptoms that could adversely affect sleep, such as spicy foods producing heartburn or high sugar foods raising blood sugar levels. Eating too late may result in indigestion as digestion slows down after sleep-onset. Make it a habit to put the snacks away a couple of hours before you plan to go to bed.


Boredom

You likely know that exercise is good for sleep. But did you know that it also applies to the brain? Today’s society is go-go-go! When the holidays come, and suddenly you stop, well, going, it can get quite boring. Binging on Netflix can only get you so far before you’re wondering what else there is to do. Boredom can reduce sleep drive – that’s the desire to sleep. It can also lead to you wanting to just go to bed because, well, what else is there to do. To avoid this pitfall, find some way to exercise the brain. Read a new book. Watch a documentary. Play a new, challenging game. Try out a new hobby. Build a puzzle or model. One caveat is, don’t engage in something that will have you thinking too close to bedtime (like that documentary that gets you hot under the collar and has you thinking about the injustices in the world all night long).


Not Enough Sunshine

One of the problems living in Canada is the lack of sunshine during the holiday season (thankfully it’s the shortest day of the year tomorrow!). Sunshine not only enhances your mood but is also essential for regulating melatonin and your sleep cycle. It may not be easy to get outside during the cold days in December, but there are some tactics that can help. Try opening the blinds as soon as you get up and keep them open until the sun goes down. Sit near a window with the sun shining in for 30 minutes. Don’t wear dark sunglasses when you go out (if the reflection of the snow doesn’t bother you too much). Buy a bright light box (often used for the seasonal affective disorder) that emits as much light as a sunrise.


Sleeping in a New Place

“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy said it best. It’s not just a safe place that you know, it’s everything about getting a good night’s sleep that is different. The bed has a different softness. The pillow is too full or too flat. The blinds don’t quite block out the light. The noises are different. One of the easiest things to do is to take your own pillow with you to get a little of the comfort of home (try the SleepKeeper that compacts your pillow to ⅓ its size in an easy-to-carry bag). Use a sleep mask (this has helped me sleep on planes and in hospitals) or a white noise app to help calm the mind and mask unfamiliar sounds (try this app).


The holidays can be difficult and stressful. Joyful and exciting. And keeping your sleep on track is important to make sure that come January, you are ready to get back to normal.


The holidays can be very stressful. Get my free Daily Stressors Exercise to help you work through your stress.

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