The festive season is synonymous with joy, celebration, and quality time spent with loved ones. However, amid the festivities, our sleep often takes a backseat, subjected to various disruptions that can impact our well-being. Here, Max Kirsten, Resident Sleep Expert for PandaLondon reveals the seven ways the holiday season can mess with your sleep, followed by practical advice on how to ensure a restful and rejuvenating sleep during this time of year.
During the festive season, social calendars tend to be brimming with events, often extending into the late hours. The irregular sleep schedules that result from late nights can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm, also known as the body’s internal clock, regulates sleep-wake cycles. Consistent irregularity can confuse this rhythm, impacting the release of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. The disruption in melatonin production can lead to difficulties falling asleep and result in overall fragmented sleep patterns.
The joyous holiday season can bring about a surge in stress levels due to various factors such as gift shopping, travel plans, and family expectations. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels can interfere with the normal sleep cycle by stimulating alertness and promoting a state of hyperarousal. This heightened state of alertness makes it challenging to achieve the deep, restorative sleep needed for physical and mental well-being.
The festive season is synonymous with indulgent feasting, and while the culinary delights bring pleasure, they can also disrupt sleep. Consuming large, rich meals close to bedtime can lead to gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or indigestion. These digestive discomforts can cause physical discomfort when lying down, hindering the ability to achieve a comfortable and uninterrupted sleep. Additionally, alcohol, often prevalent during festive celebrations, acts as a sedative initially but can disrupt the later stages of the sleep cycle, impacting sleep quality.
For many, the festive season involves travel, introducing challenges associated with changing time zones and jet lag. The body’s circadian rhythm adapts slowly to changes in time zones, and the misalignment between the internal body clock and the destination’s time zone can result in desynchronisation. This desynchronisation leads to the disruption of sleep-wake patterns and can cause insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and a general feeling of malaise until the body fully adjusts.
Festive decorations, bright lights, and increased noise levels can transform the sleep environment. Exposure to excessive light, especially blue light emitted by decorations or electronic devices, inhibits melatonin production. Reduced melatonin makes it harder for individuals to initiate sleep. Additionally, loud noises or disturbances can awaken individuals during the night, interrupting the essential cycles of deep sleep.
The prevalence of screen time during the festive season, whether through watching holiday movies or engaging in virtual celebrations, contributes to sleep disruption. Screens emit blue light, which suppresses melatonin secretion more than other wavelengths. This suppression interferes with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, delaying the onset of sleep. The delay in melatonin release and the subsequent shift in sleep-wake patterns can lead to difficulties falling asleep and a decrease in overall sleep quality.
The festive season often ushers in a flurry of activities, from gift shopping to holiday parties, creating an excessively busy schedule. The resulting stress and fatigue can impact sleep through the dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis plays a crucial role in the body’s stress response, releasing cortisol. Chronic stress, as induced by a busy schedule, can dysregulate the HPA axis, leading to an overproduction of cortisol, which, as mentioned earlier, interferes with the normal sleep-wake cycle. This cycle of stress and disrupted sleep can create a negative feedback loop, further exacerbating sleep difficulties.
1. Prioritise Sleep in Your Schedule:
Amid the festivities, make a conscious effort to prioritise sleep. Set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, ensuring you allocate sufficient hours for restorative sleep each night.
2. Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine:
Create a pre-sleep routine that signals to your body that it’s time to wind down. This could include activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practising relaxation exercises.
3. Manage Stress:
Incorporate stress-management techniques into your daily routine. Whether it’s meditation, deep breathing exercises, or mindful activities, finding ways to manage stress can significantly improve your sleep quality.
4. Monitor Food and Alcohol Intake:
Indulge in festive treats in moderation, especially close to bedtime. Be mindful of heavy meals and excessive alcohol consumption, as these can disrupt digestion and negatively impact sleep.
5. Create a Sleep-Conducive Environment:
Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. Ensure it is dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using blackout curtains and minimising external disturbances to create an optimal sleep environment.
6. Limit Screen Time Before Bed:
Reduce exposure to screens at least an hour before bedtime. This allows your body to naturally wind down and promotes the production of melatonin, facilitating a smoother transition into sleep.
7. Stay Active:
Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine. Exercise can help alleviate stress and promote better sleep, but try to complete workouts earlier in the day to avoid stimulating your body too close to bedtime.