Thanksgiving dinner arguments. Incessant renditions of “Jingle Bells.” New Year’s Eve merriment. The holidays aren’t exactly known for calm and quiet. In fact, this festive time of year can actually wreak havoc on your rest—for a couple of major reasons.
“For one, our holiday schedule seems to do double-time,” says Darria Long Gillespie, MD, a Harvard and Yale-trained ER doctor and author of Mom Hacks. “Not only do we tend to have more personal requirements, like holiday parties, family pictures, and gift-giving, many people bear a slightly heavier workload finishing out the end of the year. So we’re not only potentially getting to sleep later or at erratic hours, but also carrying more stress.”
Forget what’s happened in past years; you don’t have to skimp on your restorative sleep during the most wonderful time of the year. Here are some tips for making sure holiday cheer doesn’t get in the way of quality sleep.
1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule
It’s easy to let your routine go by the wayside during the holidays, but an erratic sleep schedule is a major no-no, according to Long Gillespie. “A consistent sleep schedule is one of the very best ways to prevent those moments of staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, make it easier for getting up in the morning, and also have more energy during the day,” she says.
You don’t have to be the “sleep police,” Long Gillespie advises: Stick with the 80/20 rule. That means adhering to a consistent sleep schedule 80% of the time, going to bed and getting up around the same time. “Then it’s OK if you periodically let it slide—the holidays are for having fun,” she says.
2. Get some (natural) light
Ironically, during a time of year when twinkling lights are everywhere, not getting enough light could be to blame for sleepless nights. “Especially in the dreary winter, we may get even less bright sunlight, and that not only impacts our mood but our circadian rhythm [your body’s internal clock controlled by light and darkness],” Long Gillespie says. “The moment you wake up, whether it’s by looking out the window or just at bright cheery lights in your bathroom, get some bright light.”
This acts as a “reset” on your body clock and circadian rhythm, which will give you more energy during the day and make it easier to fall asleep that night—and wake up the next day. Shoot for getting 20 to 30 minutes of outdoor light each day and nix bright lights for the last hour before your head hits the pillow. (Here’s how to sleep better now that the clocks have changed.)
3. Don’t overdo it on holiday treats
You might want to load up on the eggnog and sprinkle cookies at every holiday party you attend, but that won’t help you catch zzz’s, according to Alex Dimitriu, MD, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.
“The problem with alcohol is that it wears off by the middle of the night, and can also cause insomnia,” says Dimitriu. Besides cause you to wake up in the wee hours, it can also lighten sleep quality overall, resulting in lighter, less refreshing sleep.” Meanwhile, research has shown that high consumption of sugar leeds to less deep sleep and more instances of waking up in the middle of the night.
Skip large meals before bedtime, stop drinking three to four hours before you hit the hay, and periodically drink some water to rehydrate if you’re attending a bash, Dimitriu says. (Learn how drinking water can improve your sleep.)
You’ll also want to limit spicy and heavy, fatty foods and skip other stimulants like caffeine or nicotine close to bedtime for a more restful sleep, says Christopher Hollingsworth, MD, general and endovascular surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates.
4. Create a good sleep environment
Sorry, carolers—peace and quiet is key to creating an easy sleep environment. “Use of ear plugs or white noise machines can be tremendously helpful in this endeavor,” Hollingsworth says.
But that’s just one piece of creating optimal sleeping conditions. “Try not to overheat the room—a slightly cool temperature can promote a very comfortable sleep environment,” he adds. “Darkness helps promote release of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone that can also be found in pill form.” Limit electronics like TVs, cell phones, and computers in the bedroom or grab a sleep mask if you are staying in a room that isn’t as dark as you’d like.
Traveling long distances to visit family? “Taking a pill of melatonin may also help, especially in cases of jet lag, which can be a common issue during holiday season,” he says.
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5. Skip the so-so events
If your calendar feels jam-packed with everything from ugly sweater parties to obligatory office gatherings, give yourself permission to be picky about which events you attend. “It is definitely a good idea to consider skipping an optional event, especially if you’re feeling run down or under the weather,” Hollingsworth says. “Lack of sleep can decrease your immunity. Having less complete sleep cycles leaves the body with less opportunity for the healing and restorative periods of sleep. Your immune system may be low and you can either catch germs—or spread them.”
So if you’re feeling bad about declining a potluck invite, just remember it’s crucial you get your rest. Doctor’s orders!
Certain foods are better for sleep than others. Consult our list of the 10 worst foods to eat before bed before heading out to your next holiday party so you know what to avoid.