The holidays are a fun and exciting, yet stressful time for many. Maintaining healthy habits, such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, reducing stress and getting a good night’s sleep may be harder during this season than during any other time of year. However, for many, the holidays also equal lots of responsibilities and obligations that make it difficult to keep good-for-you habits.
Of all the healthy practices you can invest in, perhaps the most important is sleep. Sleep is essential for a balanced mood, weight control and reduced stress, among numerous other benefits for warding off sickness, disease, and health problems.
With holiday parties, family gatherings, shopping and more, how can you make good sleep as easy as possible to achieve — and also make up your “sleep debt” if a bad night’s sleep (or two, or three) happens?
Tips for Getting Good Sleep During the Holidays
Stick to Your Routine
The first tip, and the most important, is sticking to your normal sleep schedule, and informing kids, other family members and friends about your schedule as well. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but if others are aware of your routine and your prioritization of sleep, it can facilitate others to respect your schedule and hold you accountable to it.
If you don’t have a consistent bedtime and wake time, start setting one now! Most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep nightly to be at their best. If those crucial hours are not something you’re prioritizing right now, consider adjusting your schedule to make it happen.
If you’re a night owl, move your bedtime back by 15-30 minutes each night over the course of several days. And, if you’re a morning person, there’s no shame in going to sleep as early as you need for proper rest! It may take a while to adjust to a new routine at first, but keep trying.
Remember Healthy Eating & Drinking Habits
It’s incredibly tempting during the holiday season to partake in all of the savory bites and sweet treats that this time of year brings. And, largely, those indulgences are fine, in moderation and while considering your typical balanced diet.
If you’ve indulged in a cookie or two or lots of starches one day, consider incorporating more greens, Vitamin C and healthy protein into your diet the next. This will help your body function optimally while also promoting healthy sleep; there’s perhaps no worse feeling than lying in bed with a belly full to the brim with food.
To that, heavy meals should be avoided within the one to two hours before bedtime. Light snacks, like a granola bar or piece of fruit, will make sure you don’t go to bed hungry, but that your sleep isn’t disturbed, either.
Lastly, avoid drinking at least two hours before bed, as well. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a drink or two — it is the holidays, after all! — but, like anything else, alcohol is best consumed in moderation. Alcohol seriously affects sleep, and can leave you feeling groggy and sluggish the next day. If you do indulge, consider skipping the overly sugary cocktails, as they can compound your body’s reaction to alcohol and leave you feeling even lousier.
Keep Stress as Low as Possible
With kids running around excited for Santa or whatever holiday traditions you celebrate, family drama and friends or coworkers having yet another holiday party, the season can take a toll on many. It’s important to understand, though, that stress is a huge sleep killer. Staying up at night worrying about your holiday to-do list or relational hiccups will, ironically, make it even more difficult to accomplish your daily tasks, or just enjoy the season, the next day. There are many small, but impactful, ways to reduce stress:
Journal. Some people balk at journaling, but it can be an incredibly helpful tool for organizing feelings and letting emotions out in a healthy way. Even five minutes spent writing down your thoughts during lunch or before bedtime can be very cathartic. If using old school pen and paper is not for you, consider recording a voice memo on your phone. Complete permission to delete later, but even hearing yourself express your thoughts can help you release stress and get a better night’s sleep.
Take a brief walk. Even a 15-minute walk around the block can clear your mind and lighten your mood.
Address conflict with openness and empathy. Tension can run high during the holidays, and it’s easy for feelings to get hurt. While it may be tempting to either avoid any issues, or lash out, it’s best to sit the person down and address things calmly and respectfully in order to move on. Resolving conflict can reduce stress on both sides and eliminate any nagging thoughts causing anxiety.
Remedying Bad Sleep
“Sleep debt” is the term used to describe a buildup of missed hours of sleep that occurs over a period of time. This debt can take one night to make up, or several weeks or even months. That’s why sticking to a consistent sleep schedule and routine is so important.
Ongoing sleep debt can be cured over time by taking short naps during the day, sleeping in on the weekend (but only by one hour), and establishing, at minimum, seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
For a night or two’s worth of sleep debt, the same rules apply. If possible, ask family members or friends to keep watch of kids for an hour so you can rest. Even if you don’t fall asleep, lying in bed and closing your eyes can help you get in the habit of taking a quick midday nap.
Lastly, keeping weekend sleep to no more than 10 hours per night can help restore sleep debt without hurting nightly sleep schedules. If you oversleep too much on the weekend, it can throw off your bedtime routine and make good rest harder to achieve during the week.
While maintaining healthy sleep during the holidays can be difficult, it’s not impossible. Keep these tips in mind, and most importantly, respect yourself and your body enough to prioritize sleep. You’ll be at your best, have energy, and be able to enjoy the holiday season as much as possible.
Jeff Rodgers, DMD, D-ABDSM, D-ASBA has been in private practice for over 20 years. He specializes in both general dentistry (primarily restorative, implant, and cosmetic dentistry) and dental sleep medicine.
A Diplomate of both the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine (ABDSM) and the American Sleep and Breathing Academy (ASBA), Rodgers is a board-certified expert in sleep, treating patients who suffer from sleep breathing disorders at his practice Sleep Better Georgia in Dunwoody, Ga.