Let’s start with being well-rested to help you keep your cool in the face of yuletide pressures
Despite the madness of the holidays: last-minute shopping, juggling visits with friends and family, hanging stockings (and filling them), prepping dinner and hosting family gatherings, it really is possible to find peace – and rest – this time of year. Seriously!
We’re here to tell you how to preserve your emotional and physical health in the face of multiple stressors. Protecting your sleep will simply take some smart strategizing and small modifications to your family traditions. Easy, right?
With your sleep health top of mind, we offer some expert advice on easy ways you can enjoy the happiest, most restful, holidays ever. Let’s commit to finding the “happy” in happy holidays and enjoy the “merry” in “Merry Christmas.”
Understanding & managing holiday stress with a few easy fixes
Watch for those sugar-pushers. The holidays are characterized by hearty foods and sweet treats. Although you don’t have to avoid them completely, your waistline AND your sleep will thank you for enjoying them in moderation. Mindless snacking on chocolates, cookies and other festive delights cause an energy crash (sending you straight to naptown). What’s more, indulging in sugary foods throughout the day can impact your sleep by causing you to experience sleep arousal, a less restorative form of sleep that can leave you feeling sluggish the next day, says Morgan Statt, health & safety investigator, ConsumerSafety.org.
Avoid these drastic dips and keep your blood sugar levels balanced by swapping in some healthier snack choices, like strawberries with a bit of chocolate or a low-fat, low-carb meringue for dessert. As well, try to consume more fiber-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables during the day to improve your quality of sleep. To help with moderation, make sweets a treat – not an anytime snack – and enjoy after a full meal.
Eat, drink and be merry – within reason. Our good eating habits tend to fall by the wayside when the holidays roll around. A little indulgence is normal, but moderation is key, especially when it comes to alcohol and late-night eating. While alcohol might make you feel merry, over-drinking will impair the quality of your sleep and you’ll miss out on important deep REM restorative rest. Before you reach for that late-in-the-day cup of coffee or post-dinner espresso remember that Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that will impair your brain’s ability to shift down for the night. You’ll also want to avoid going to bed on a full belly, lest you risk indigestion or heartburn. Cut off your snacking two or three hours before you head to bed.
Avoid late-night shopping sprees. With gifts to buy, visits to make and meals to plan for, you may find yourself looking for time-saving ways to get things done – hello, ecommerce. Running errands online can be really helpful, says Dr. Aditi Gupta Jha, head physicians at JustDoc.com. “It helps save my sanity and precious time in doing important chores and clearing up my mind of clutter, readying me for a sound sleep at the end of the day,” It’s still a good idea to get it done earlier in the day. For many people – whether it’s shopping online or in a store – there’s a serious adrenalin rush that can happen when you land that perfect purchase. We already know that tech use right before sleep is never a great idea plus, the rush from shopping will make you feel more alert and awake and interfere with your relaxation before bedtime.
Get outside. With shorter days, the lack of daylight can cause our Vitamin D levels to be lower than in the warmer months, which has been linked to daytime drowsiness. This lack of Vitamin D can negatively impact your ability to get a restful night’s sleep. Try to get outside each day to boost your levels. If you work inside, consider relocating your desk to the nearest window. In a study on windows and daylight exposure, researchers found that those who were situated near windows during the day slept better at night.
Aim for just the right amount of sleep a night during the holiday season. The holidays, which are some of the most stressful times of the year, tend to disrupt our normal sleep patterns. “During the holidays, we tend to rush to prepare, rush to travel and rush to celebrate, says Chris Brantner, founder of SleepZoo.com. “We overeat. We over-imbibe. This can all leave us more physically and emotionally exerted than usual, even if we have time off work. All of this leads to exhaustion and emotional stress.”
It’s critical to make sure you’re taking the time to get your 7-8 hours a night. Even slight sleep deprivation can lead to stress. In fact, research has shown that most people would be happier and healthier if they got even one extra hour of sleep a night. On the other hand, don’t sleep too much. Come wintertime, some people tend to hibernate and sleep too much. With less sunlight, it’s not hard to do.
“Too much sleep this time of year leads to decreased motivation, depression and increased weight gain,” Marla Stone, a former social worker and owner of I-Deal-Lifestyle Inc, a lifestyle consulting and professional organizing service in South Orange County, Calif.
Maintain your sleep routine. If you’re going to spend time at a relative’s house, you’re going to find yourself in unfamiliar sleep territory. Brantner suggests that you prepare in advance by bringing some personal comforts from home, such as your pillow (if you can). If you’re expecting noise, consider downloading a white noise app. Pack a sleep mask – it can do wonders for blocking out light and the rest of the world.
Practice serious self-care. Taking seriously good care of yourself is crucial to your happiness. This includes what you eat, drink, think, how much you move your body and how much you rest. Start with avoiding negative people. Some friends and relatives are just plain miserable come holiday time. Don’t let them throw shade on your festive spirit. Try to keep a positive attitude and avoid people who thrive on negativity, recommends Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist, specializing in children, families, and couples. Surprisingly, another form of self-care is paying it forward. When you feel overwhelmed, reach out and do something nice for someone else. According to Dr. Walfish, being generous in words and actions creates positive feelings for the doer and gets your endorphins flowing.
Get regular exercise. It’s easy to put exercise on the back burner during the holiday season, but it’s crucial to treat it as a priority – right up there with sleep and making good food choices. “Regular exercise helps keep the sleep-wake cycle as regular as possible,” says Christa Gurka, a Miami-area based health and wellness expert who specializes in Pilates-based holistic wellness. “Besides helping us sleep better, squeezing in exercise during the holiday season will help reduce our stress levels (and keep off those extra party pounds).
Make holiday-time even better with some small changes to your traditions
Shift the time for opening presents on Christmas morning. Chances are, your kids are super-excited to wake up and start ripping open their gifts from Santa, so much so that you might get tapped on the shoulder as early as 5 am. For young children, shifting bedtime a bit later on Christmas Eve might result in everyone sleeping just a bit longer on Christmas morning. For older kids, consider allowing them to open one gift in their bed when they wake up. Make it something they can use or play with on their own while you get a few more zzzs. Lastly, agree to a wake-up time for the rest of the family.
Set some time-limits for visits with friends and family. Making the rounds is one of the best parts of this time of year. But overstaying your welcome – whether your host knows it or not – means you might pay dearly for overindulging in alcohol and unhealthy food while under-indulging in sleep. According to Kimberly Lackey, an integrative health coach with Empath Coaching, the more consistent you can be with your schedule and sleep patterns the healthier and happier you’ll be throughout the holiday season. “Setting boundaries with friends and family and taking care of yourself are very important life skills,” she says. “Use this time of year to give yourself the gift of self-care.”
Don’t skip the party though! At the other end of the spectrum, you might be tempted to unplug and forgo family gatherings because they’re too much bother or stressful. Before you send your regrets, consider the value of these traditions. Spending time socializing and exchanging gifts can boost natural oxytocin levels, a hormone that blocks the body’s main stress chemical. Those lower levels of stress mean you’ll sleep better, be able to do more, and make that dreamy white Christmas filled with sugar plums and snowy sparkles come true.
Shift your binge-watching holiday TV specials and movies. Timing is key when it comes to our favorite holiday movies. You can still watch but try for earlier in the evening or on Saturday afternoon instead. Too much TV before bed can disturb your sleep. Blue light emitted from televisions and electronics sends the wrong signal to your brain, saying, “Wake up!” instead of “It’s time to sleep.” Lackey suggests a wind-down period between when the TV shuts off and your bedtime. “Establish a relaxation habit such as listening to calming music, meditation or writing in a journal before bedtime.” And if you need your Santa fix before shuteye, try reading a festive-themed novel.
Need a little more help de-stressing? Incorporate mindfulness practices into your day
Start a meditation practice. Whether you choose to meditate in silence, while moving, or with a guided recording, there’s a lot of evidence that supports meditating – even for 5 minutes – as beneficial for mental health. Focusing on your breath and sitting in stillness may also aid your sleep. Not sure where to start? Watching or listening to videos, podcasts or recordings will help slow your monkey mind in the evening. Try some of these: Relaxing videos, Sleep apps or Sleep inducing podcasts.
Download your thoughts into a journal. If holiday stress and planning worries are keeping you up at night, Statt warns against lying in bed and mulling over them. Instead, get up and do a brain dump, scribing everything that’s spinning through your mind into a journal and then physically throwing the pages into the trash. Sounds weird, but research has shown this process can help clear negative thoughts and lessen the impact of your worries.
Skip the news. At year-end, there are always plenty of news programs summarizing the biggest events from the last year. The gloomy stories can wreck your holiday mojo so limit your intake of news. Choose to read your news online so you can control what and how much goes into your consciousness.
Tap into the soothing properties of aromatherapy. To help put your mind at rest, consider aromatherapy. “I often light a diffuser lamp with a combination of a couple of drops of lemongrass and an equal amount of lavender oil so it soothes my mind, “says Dr. Jha. This creates a cozy environment to fall asleep, letting your fretful thoughts about the mountain of tasks on your to-do list drift away.
Make a daily gratitude list. To put a cheery slant on the holidays, try writing down 10 things you’re grateful for – a suggestion from Kimberly Hershenson, a New York-based therapist specializing in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and relationships. Your list can include anything, big or small – from your family, that you have legs to walk on or reality TV. Focusing on what’s good in your life as opposed to what’s going wrong helps relieve anxiety. Read your grateful affirmations every morning to begin your day with a positivity kick to start your day in the right tone.
Practice acceptance. The fastest path to a joyful holiday is accepting what is while releasing your mental hold on what is out of your control. Hershenson recommends making a list of what you can’t control (like family members who don’t get along) and what you can control (such as being able to separate them at the holiday dinner table). The key is focusing on the things you can control to make changes and accept those things that you cannot.
Affirm what you want in your life. Take responsibility for what you hold in your mind. Work towards maintaining a positive attitude and see if you can adopt a more ‘glass half full’ habit. Try this trick from Dr. Walfish: Get a rubber band and place it on your wrist. Whenever you recognize a negative thought or reactive fear, snap the rubber band. This second of discomfort will give you a moment to pause and take your focus off the fear of what MAY happen, allowing you to be in the present moment (of what is) and adopt a more optimistic view (what you WANT to happen).
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Tips for a great holiday season
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- Kick-start energy levels and squash daytime fatigue