Expert tips on how to safeguard your sleep from holiday stress and gluttony

The holidays often appear to be a particularly stressful time. To cope, many people take hours from their sleep to fit in cooking, shopping, gift wrapping, parties, and family time.

“Even a night or two of little sleep can have short-term repercussions on your health, emotions, and wellbeing,” said sleep specialist Kristen Knutson, an associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

You’ll enjoy the holidays more if you safeguard your sleep time, and you may get more done if you’re not weary and inefficient from sleep deprivation, she said.

Be careful with extra food.

Large, heavy meals cause the body to work harder to digest the food, which can lead to weariness, says Steven Malin of Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“The carbohydrate, protein, and fat create a sequence of hormonal changes that can increase alterations in serotonin, a feel-good, pleasure hormone that promotes sleepiness,” he stated via email.

Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, says eating smaller quantities and taking pauses can help.

“I realize this seems terrible, especially when a delicious meal is in front of you, but this approach can help lessen your sleepiness,” he stated.

Replace sugary and fatty meals on your holiday plate with unprocessed, fiber-rich foods. Malin said that these changes “delay digestion, so people feel full longer.”

Another technique is water intake. Consuming enough water before eating can help expand the stomach and induce a feeling of fullness, he added.

Malin said exercise counteracts sluggishness. The “tired” switch can be reset by just standing up and walking around the house or neighborhood.

And don’t keep eating into the wee hours. Sleeping inhibits digestion, which can contribute to indigestion, heartburn, or acid reflux, says Knutson.

“In an ideal world, we shouldn’t eat for at least two hours before bed.” “If you’re hungry before bed, a small snack is fine, but you should stay away from big, rich meals,” she said in an email.

The particular role of sugar

All those Christmas sweets, especially if ingested on an empty stomach while waiting for the meal, can induce blood sugar changes. Keeping your blood pressure stable throughout the day is ideal for the body.

When blood sugar rises, it promotes the production of insulin, which clears glucose from the circulation, Malin said.

Drops in blood glucose due to insulin-promoting cell clearance can cause “crash” emotions. Consuming sugar-based foods later in the evening can create spurts of energy that alter sleep, making it harder to fall asleep, he added via email.

Watch your alcohol intake.

Many of us feel alcohol helps us fall asleep, but it decreases sleep quality, Dasgupta said.

“Remember that drinking can make you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply early in the evening.” “Alcohol can make it hard to sleep in the middle of the night,” he said.

Alcohol suppresses the brain, so when we drink too much (or too late), we get drowsy. By midnight, the liver will have finished metabolizing the alcohol into acetaldehyde, according to Dr. Bhanu Kolla, an addiction psychiatrist and sleep medicine expert at the Mayo Clinic.

“If you drink too much alcohol before bed, in around four hours it is converted to aldehyde, which can interrupt sleep and wake you up,” Kolla told CNN.

If you’re in a deep, restorative sleep phase when you wake, the brain can’t repair and restore cells.

Similar to eating, stop drinking at least two hours before bed to reduce its impact on sleep, Knutson said.

Be strategic with naps.

Many individuals look forward to a Christmas snooze and blame the turkey. First, dispel a myth: Turkey is not to blame.

“Tryptophan from turkey is not likely to get into the brain and make us sleepy by making enough serotonin,” Malin said.

Malin said you’d have to consume 8 pounds of turkey for it to have an effect. Rich, processed foods such as candied sweet potatoes or pecan pie are making you weary.

Dasgupta advised against napping too soon after eating.

“It’s never a good idea to lay down shortly after a big meal, especially if you have heartburn.” “Also, if you have insomnia, I wouldn’t advocate a nap,” he stated.

“But if you are sleep deprived from the long flight, didn’t get much sleep the night before, and it’s not too late in the day, a 15- to 20-minute nap is OK,” he noted via email. “Don’t blame the nap on the turkey!”

Beware of depression.

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or SAD (a condition that induces sorrow when there’s less daylight), watch your sleep, specialists say.

Depression and sleep are connected. Poor sleep can harm our mood, and melancholy can lead to unhealthy sleep, Knutson said.

Calming options include a calming transition before sleep, such as a bath, meditation, or peaceful music, she said.

Leave a notebook by your bed to jot down any to-do items that may pop into your head while you try to fall asleep, Knutson suggests.

Regular exercise is also useful. It helps with sleep and depression by relieving stress and releasing “feel-good” endorphins, say doctors.

“Exercising improves sleep by reducing sleep onset, meaning it takes less time to fall asleep and lessens the amount of time you lie awake at night,” Dasgupta added.

“Studies show that exercise helps people who have trouble sleeping fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and sleep better,” he said. Exercise is an excellent technique to ease stress and depression during the holidays.

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