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Health Information | 11/29/2022

The Gift of Getting Enough Sleep During the Holidays

By  Quynh Tran, Psy.D.
We are all working so hard this time of the year to get everything done on time for the holidays. Trying to squeeze in holiday commitments like shopping, cooking, late-night events, or attending to the never-ending to-do list, can all add up. The pressure of making the holidays special can certainly throw a wrench in our sleep routine.

So, what is it that has us not sleeping well during this joyous time of the year?

Ways that the Holidays Mess with Our Sleep

  • Holiday-related Stress. We’re giving it our all to make sure the holidays are special for our families, be it writing cards, standing in long lines, or coordinating travel plans. This can send our brains into overdrive, making it challenging for us to shut our minds off around this time of the year. Many of us take our worries to bed, and our busy minds may keep us from sleeping well.
  • Anxiety and Depression. Holidays can be a very difficult time for many people. This period can be a source of loneliness, social anxiety, grief, and dealing with complex family dynamics. Furthermore, the change in the weather can lead to a decrease in mood and energy. If you are dealing with loss and the holidays are too difficult right now, only participate in the ways that feel okay for you. Managing any mental health concerns you might be facing is key to keeping healthy sleep patterns in place year-round.
  • Financial Factors. The month of December can represent one of the most expensive months for many of us, and financial worries can mess with your sleep. The costs of buying gifts, traveling, decorating, and making dinners, alongside the commercialization around this time of the year, can overwhelm your budget.
  • Traveling. Routines, including sleep routines, are likely to be disrupted for people who travel to visit friends and families. Long-distance traveling or sleeping in unfamiliar places, such as hotels, can mess with your sleep. Furthermore, dealing with jet lag is not fun if you are traveling to a different time zone. Our circadian rhythm – the body’s sleep-wake regulating system – gets confused.
  • Holiday Eating. The festive time of year is known for an abundance of foods and drinks. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the holiday favorites, consuming a large amount of sugary food, caffeine, and alcohol, especially if closer to bedtime, can lead to poorer sleep quality.

Tips for Getting Good Sleep During the Holidays

Adapting “good sleep hygiene” is one of the best stress management techniques to keep us from entering the spiral of exhaustion created by a lack of sleep combined with your daily stress.
  • Make sleep a priority. With so much to do during the holidays, it’s easy for “high-quality sleep” to fall to the bottom of your priority list.
  • Setting boundaries. Pick and choose the holiday events that are most meaningful for you, and allow yourself to say “no” to anything you can't fit in.
  • Stick to your routine as much as you can.It can be hard to maintain your routines during the holidays, but sticking to your sleep routine can help keep your sleep on track.
  • Physical activity reduces cortisol and releases stress-fighting endorphins.
  • Avoid beverages that mess with your sleep. For instance, avoid stimulants, like caffeine, closer to bedtime. Try to limit the number of alcoholic drinks you enjoy during the evening hours and try not to consume any alcohol at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Try not to eat to the point of feeling excessively full. Avoid foods that tend to cause you stomach pain, gas, or indigestion.
  • Give yourself time to wind down before bed. All the holiday excitement can make it hard to unwind at night. Make sure to give yourself plenty of downtime before bed; that way, your mind and body have time to drift to sleep.

Mobile Sleep Apps

Interested in more resources to improve your sleep quality?  Here are some app recommendations for you:
  • Calm. This app is best suited for those who enjoy listening to materials to fall asleep. You can also use Calm for meditation, mindfulness, stretching, and breathing exercises. The library includes soothing music to help you fall asleep, as well.
  • Headspace. This app is best suited for those new to pre-bedtime meditation, people who struggle to get enough sleep, or anyone who deals with day-to-day stress. You can also take part in “SOS” meditations for moments of acute stress or anxiety, as well as mini-meditations that last 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Yours. This app is best suited for people who prefer falling asleep to white noise, ambient sounds, or ASMR. It’s also best for sleepers who feel anxious before bedtime or those who enjoy light physical activity in the evening.
  • Sleep Reset. This app is best suited for people who want to learn more about healthy sleep hygiene or anyone looking for tips from sleep experts.
  • Sleep Cycle. This app is best suited for people interested in tracking their sleep data. The app tracks sleeping patterns and resting heart rate.
The bottom line is to control what you can, don’t overextend yourself, and try to enjoy the spirit of the holiday season by spending time with those who are special to you.

About The Author

Quynh Tran, Psy.D.

Quynh Tran, Psy.D., is an Atrius Health behavioral fellow at our Chelmsford office. Quynh received her PsyD at Antioch University. Before coming to Atrius Health, she was trained in various settings, including integrated primary care, university counseling centers, community mental health, and patient-centered medical home. Quynh's clinical focus revolves around trauma-informed care. Her main goal is to assist patients in identifying their underlying strengths and utilizing those strengths to achieve their goals.

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