[by Tamara Sellman RPSGT CCSH for Advanced Cardiovascular Sleep Disorders Center]
Stress during the holidays is a given. You can blame holiday stress on a variety of causes:
- You might be skipping breaks and rest periods to finish your shopping, decorating, or errands.
- Throw in some unexpected winter weather (snow, anybody?) and you might see your work schedule change, throwing your plans (and maybe your back!) out of whack.
- Sore feet from trips to the mall and headaches from decision making (what to cook for the holiday meal, how many gifts to buy, who to invite over for festivities) can lead to physical exhaustion and pain at the end of the day.
- Who doesn't experience anxiety about the cost of gift giving? Finding the perfect gift, affording it, and making sure it gets into the mail on time can lead to racing thoughts.
- This is also a rough time of the year for sick or elderly loved ones, or you might be grieving a lost loved one.
- Even a mild depression, caused by longer nights and darker days, can set in, leaving you feeling unmotivated, excessively tired, uttering "bah humbug" under your breath.
The stress of making healthy choices
- When time, energy, and resources run short, it's easy to lose willpower when it comes to eating. Fast food and junk food are instantly gratifying, and rich, sweet holiday foods give you a quick feel-good boost. But after a day or two, the lack of healthy food can lead to sluggishness, digestive issues, and dips in mood.
- Problems with both overeating (because you might be stress eating) and undereating (because you are too busy) also translate into poor energy levels.
- Throw in too much coffee, alcohol in the evening, and too little water, and you can begin to feel strung out, fatigued or hungover when need to be alert and energetic.
- And we all know it can be hard to stick to a workout regimen during the winter. It's either too cold, or you're too busy, or the spirit, though willing, may be tamped down by a weakened immune system or general low spirits.
With so much to focus on at this time of year, what can we do to prevent what seems like inevitable physical, mental, and emotional distress... as well as colds, flu, and other stress-induced illness?
Sleep to the rescue!
One of the best ways to endure these seasonal challenges is to prioritize sleep!
You may be thinking, how will I sleep with so much to do and think about? It's a serious question, but the answer exists in one's mindset. If you treat your sleep like it's literally a spa treatment or much-needed physical therapy, you will do better than just stave off stress... you'll enjoy yourself!
Here are seven reasons why treating yourself to the gift of sleep now and through the end of the season, can be a winning strategy for holiday survival.
Sleep repairs and heals
If you get from 7 to 9 hours of good sleep every night, you are giving your brain and body every opportunity to recharge and repair after a day's worth of stress. Sleep literally helps you rejuvenate from the cellular level. Growth hormone is released, the bloodstream sends out immune system boosters, and hormone levels are reset as you sleep.
Sleep improves focus
A dream-filled sleep means your brain also has time to "declutter" itself. While dreaming, it's thought that our brains are consolidating memories, processing emotional and intellectual information, and stabilizing mood. Waking up well rested means your head is clear and you can concentrate.
Sleep boost dietary "willpower"
Sleep helps us to manage the hormones we rely on to manage our hunger. With adequate sleep, we can fight off cravings for high-calorie foods loaded with fat and sugar due to a balanced brain chemistry.
Sleep elevates positive mood
Research constantly proves the healthy connection between adequate sleep and strong emotional health. We all want to feel happy, or at least content and unbothered, throughout the year. This time of year, the mandate to have a holly jolly Christmas is most compelling... and completely possible with good sleep. It can also help you through unexpected periods of stress, especially when others are counting on you.
Sleep buys your more time
This seems impossible, but if you are on a go-go-go schedule to keep up with holiday demands, you're going to burn out before the holidays even arrive. An investment in solid sleep means you will make better, more efficient use of your time, thanks to a sharp mind, bolstered immune system, and reduced chronic pain to slow you down.
Sleep restores energy
You know how you feel when you take a quick nap: refreshed and reinvigorated. Think of nighttime sleep as a "long winter's nap," with the goal of replenishing your energy. More energy means more productivity at work or while tending to holiday projects, and it also means you're more likely to sneak in a quick walk, yoga, or spinning session.
Sleep saves resources
Yes, sleep can save you money. How? By helping you stick to budgets, shopping lists, and other plans where spending requires some oversight. It's easy to overspend and overbuy at the holidays when your defenses are down, but regular sleep can keep you vigilant to avoid the added stress these practices can bring.
For these reasons, please consider giving yourself the gift of sleep this holiday season. Resist the urge to jump start yourself with caffeine, comfort foods, or "retail therapy." You'll feel so much better, you'll cross more things off your To Do List, and you'll come to thank yourself in January. Sleep can give you a healthy boost without all the added weight gain, worries about gift budgets, and potential illnesses that could follow.
How do you find ways to stay well rested during the holidays? Share them in the comments below.