Why You Should Prioritize Sleep Over the Holidays + Tips to Get Enough Sleep

It can be tough to get enough sleep during the holiday season, but there are many reasons why you should prioritize sleep over the holidays.

By Nicole Gleichmann

The holidays are a festive and joyous time of year. We have the opportunity to gather with our friends and family, enjoy social events, and spend time eating our favorite guilty pleasures.

With so much going on, you may find yourself clocking fewer hours snuggled under the covers at night. With travel, get-togethers, and house guests, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can become a low priority. Holiday sleep loss is common. But there are some unintended consequences of sleep deprivation that might sway you to prioritize getting a good night’s sleep.

The Consequences of Being Sleep Deprived

A Lack of Energy

We’ve all experienced the mental and physical fatigue that comes from being sleep deprived. Excessive sleepiness makes it hard to do all you need to do over the holidays. Plus, it makes your experiences less enjoyable.

Dampened Immunity

Winter is the season for getting sick with a cold or flu. Contrary to the old wives’ tale, this boost in sickness is not caused by a drop in temperature. Rather, people spend more time indoors, sharing germs with everyone around them.

When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system suffers, leaving you at an increased risk of getting sick. Pair that with all of the time you spend indoors with others during the holidays, and it is the perfect recipe for catching a cold or flu.

Increased Cravings

Sleep regulates hormones that control appetite and cravings. When you don’t get enough sleep, you will have higher plasma levels of your hunger hormone ghrelin.

The result? An almost insatiable urge to give in to your cravings. You may find yourself eating far more sweets and fried foods than you would have if you got enough sleep. And while the holidays are a great time to indulge, your waistline and energy levels would prefer if you did so with a sprinkle of self-control.

Low Mood and Heightened Stress

Proper sleep is central to mood regulation. When you do not get enough, you are more likely to experience mood swings, a depressed mood, and anxiety. Catching enough Z’s will allow you to enjoy the holidays.

Poor Cognition

Lapses in memory, trouble concentrating, and slow reaction times are common symptoms of inadequate sleep. This is the last thing you want when traveling to new places, trying out challenging recipes, or driving around this holiday season.

How to Get Better Sleep Over the Holidays

Getting plenty of rest during the holidays requires the same good habits that it does during the rest of the year. Follow these tips to fall asleep faster, reduce your tossing and turning, and get more sleep.

1. Now is a good time to prepare your home for the holidays.

That means before you bring anything else into the house (like presents, food, decorations), you should clear a space and keep it clean.

Clean out the refrigerator and pantry. Even if you don’t plan to entertain, you will most likely be preparing holiday food and goodies that will need to be stored along with your normal supplies. Especially important is to make room in your freezer so you can prepare and freeze some meals ahead of time whenever you can. (See #6.)

Clear the house of clutter. Make room for Christmas decorations by storing picture frames, vases, and other knick-knacks you normally display. Simply adding to your normal decor will make it harder to keep your house clean, and it will just look cluttered instead of decorated.

Don’t forget to clear out your closets for guests, especially in your entryway and guest room(s). Collect old clothes, boots, and shoes that no one wears anymore and donate them to your favorite charity. Do it before the new year and get a tax break for your donation. Win-win!

Start with a clean house. Of course, you will have to clean up again sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, but you’ll have a good start if you thoroughly clean before you set up the Christmas tree and other decorations. Consider adding iRobot’s Roomba to your arsenal of cleaning supplies to keep the floors dust and dirt free in between cleanings, even while you host house guests.

Catch up on the laundry and stay on top of it. You know you will have to wash clothes during the holidays, so it’s a good idea to start the season with empty hampers. Then, try to stay ahead of the deluge by doing laundry more often than usual. It’s easier to throw in one load of laundry during the busy season than to wash, dry, and fold load after load.

2. Plan ahead for your holiday shopping.

Make a shopping list before you begin to shop for gifts. This is a nice way to ease into the holiday shopping season without the intimidation of the mall or the entire Internet, which can lead to procrastination. And that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Making a plan and a budget will help prevent you from overspending.

3. Shop early and often.

Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to do all your holiday shopping. Nothing says stressed out like a shopping spree the day before the big day. Sure, the sales are good, but your selection is limited, and you have better things to do on Christmas Eve. Today, make it your goal to take the shopping list you made and tackle a few gifts at a time.

Set reasonable goals and work to achieve them. By taking the “divide and conquer” approach to shopping, you’ll save yourself the exhaustion of one or two marathon shopping trips. Spreading out the shopping is also easier on your budget.

4. Take advantage of online shopping.

This is a no-brainer, but from the looks of the parking lots at the malls, it seems some people still feel the holidays are not complete without scouring the local stores for the perfect gifts. Sure, it’s nice to browse for some special gifts and buy something that really catches your eye, but many gifts (all gifts?) can be browsed, bought, paid for, and arranged to be shipped all while you’re in your bunny slippers.

With many online retailers offering free shipping and deals galore on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the Internet becomes a shopper’s BFF, especially during the holidays. Getting your holiday shopping done is no less satisfying when it’s done from your comfy chair. And the time you save by not driving to the mall, battling for parking spaces, trudging through crowds, waiting on check-out lines, and driving home exhausted can be better spent on more enjoyable holiday preparations, like, say, sleeping.

5. Stick to your regular exercise regimen.

…Or start one, gently, if you don’t already have one. Regular exercise has myriad benefits including:

  • Relieving stress
  • Promoting sound sleep
  • Maintaining your weight
  • Encouraging you to drink water. Staying hydrated will keep your systems in good working order, discourage you from overindulging, and combat the dehydrating effects of alcohol consumption.

All of these and more make for a better you for the holidays.

6. Make and freeze a few meals ahead of time.

Plan to serve a few pre-made casseroles while you have guests or during the height of the holidays when you’d rather spend time with family and friends than in the kitchen. Try some of these delicious recipes.

7. Anticipate stressful social situations and mentally prepare.

Visiting with toxic family members, partying with colleagues who are not necessarily friends, and simply being surrounded by more people than normal can send us into a tailspin of irritation, stress, and restless sleep. Brushing upon your conflict avoidance and resolution skills may be one of your most important holiday preparations.

8. Learn to say “no.”

The time leading up to the holidays is often the busiest time of the year. On top of the shopping, baking, tree-trimming, cleaning, and cooking, there are Christmas concerts, office parties, and tree-lighting ceremonies. All contribute to the Christmas spirit, but this is one time when less is more.

Choose your holiday preparations and festivities judiciously, realizing that there are only 24 hours in the day and seven to nine of them should be devoted to sleep. Then, schedule time for your carefully chosen holiday preparations just as you would any other appointments. Be selective about what festivities you will attend or at least limit the time you spend at them. By New Year’s Day, you’ll thank yourself for saying “no” to those events that will can easily be skipped.

9. Scale back your expectations of perfection.

Remember, the important thing is that everyone, including you, enjoys the holidays. Yes, you want your home to be inviting, festive, and filled with good things to eat and drink, but will your family and friends enjoy themselves less if you serve a tried and true recipe that you know you can master instead of an elaborate new dish? Of course, they won’t, and that’s one less stressor for you. Look for ways to scale back and practice enjoying the feeling of “good enough.”

10. Delegate holiday preparations to family members or friends.

This will be especially hard for those of us who feel the need to control everything and have high standards of perfection (see above). But the holidays are all about family and friends and spending time together, not the show you put on. Working together to decorate the house, serve a dinner, or host a party is a lot more enjoyable than trying to do it all yourself. Plus, your team will share in your sense of accomplishment when the house shimmers, the dinner satisfies, and the party rocks.

Here are some stress-reducing ideas:
  • Host a potluck instead of cooking an entire meal yourself.
  • Have the kids decorate the tree. (Remember, it’s not about perfection.)
  • Offer rewards to children who help keep the house clean.
  • Team-host a party with friends. One opens their house to guests and other hosts help out with food, beverages, supplies, and decorations.

Conclusion

It is far-too-easy to prioritize everything else over sleep during the holidays. But if you want to stay happy and healthy, you must do what you can to avoid sleep deprivation this holiday season.

The holidays don’t have to rob you of the sleep you need. Like any big event, this festive time of year can be enjoyable and stress-less with careful planning, a bit of discipline, and sound sleeping. Happy holidays!


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