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Five Essential Tips for Quality Sleep During Christmas

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year – or, is it? Whether you’re a lover or loather of Christmas, the festive season often brings an unavoidable surge in alcohol, sugar, and stress.

Daniel White, Founder of Sleep Better Live Better, explains how we can navigate stress, manage caffeine, and give ourselves the priceless gift of great sleep this Christmas.

Wrapped up together, the excesses of the festive season can impact your body’s ability to regulate itself, leading to a vicious cycle of heightened stress, deprived sleep, and unhealthy coping methods to fill the gaps.

It’s important to understand the profound importance of quality rest on your health.

To help you this Christmas, I’ve curated a set of sleep tips that strive to nurture healthy sleep cycles, harmonising your body’s natural rhythms so you can steer clear of burnout before the big day.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep plays a vital role in balancing hormones and neurochemicals, influencing mood, weight, muscle development, preventing cellular ageing and cancer, as well as mitigating risks linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. It is fundamental to health but often the first thing sacrificed during the holiday season.

More than simply resting your head on a pillow for eight hours (focusing on ‘quantity’ of sleep, as it were), achieving optimal sleep entails traversing healthy nightly sleep cycles (the all-too-often missing ‘quality’ piece), each with functions critical for wellbeing.

These cycles involve transitions through stages, encompassing Non-Rapid Eye Movement (REM) (Stages 1, 2, and 3) and REM sleep.

It’s the navigation through each of these cycles that ensures we wake up genuinely refreshed, having extracted all of the physiological and psychological benefits that deep and restful sleep offers us.

1. Managing Christmas stress

‘Tis the season of stress; searching for gifts (including the dreaded office Secret Santa), an increased workload for year-end targets, as well as cramming a year’s worth of social events into less than a month.

Even though prioritising rest may be the last thing on your list, it’s important to make time for the sleep that’s required to support recovering from these activities – try not to compensate for the higher stress levels with alcohol and sugar.

The more we allow stress to build and look for ‘quick fixes’ the more dysregulated our sleeping and overall health can become.

Learning specific breathing techniques to combat stress can help support your body’s ability to regulate naturally. An easy technique to start the 4-4-6 method, breathing through the nose and into the abdomen for four seconds, holding for four, then breathing out for six.

A mindfulness practice begins with recognising that this is a more stressful time of year, acknowledging that there is more on your plate (sometimes literally), and accepting that you will be doing your best.

2. Caffeine and sleep

Of course, you can do all the deep breathing in the world, but if you’re putting high doses of a stimulant like caffeine into your system too late in the day, you’ll find yourself in the notorious ‘tired but wired’ scenario late at night.

Keeping your caffeine consumption prior to midday can ensure your body has the opportunity to wind down naturally as the day progresses.

3. Navigating alcohol and sleep

We all like to enjoy a few extra drinks at Christmas, be it a warming nightcap or clinking glasses at endless office parties. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to fragmented and shallow sleep.

Unlike caffeine or sugar, alcohol is classified as a depressant. Although initially producing some stimulating effects such as increased sociability, its primary action depresses the central nervous system.

The dysregulating effect alcohol has means that we don’t progress properly through each stage of sleep. We often fall into a deeper ‘blackout’ unconsciousness, which is why we don’t feel rested after a night of drinking.

The best way to mitigate too much damage is to stop drinking at least a few hours before going to bed, trying your best not to go to sleep ‘under the influence’.

Don’t forget to drink water consistently to support your body’s detoxification process, as your liver will be working overtime.

4. Mindful sugar consumption

Sugar seems to be everywhere this time of year and can provide a quick dopamine hit to a stress-laden brain.

Be mindful of relying on sugar to keep you going, as high sugar levels lead to a potential upheaval in your body’s circadian rhythm. Keep to regular meal timings and maintain adequate protein intake so that you can curb the Christmas cravings that would usually lead you down the path of running off mince pies.

5. Minimising blue light exposure

Increased screen time during the season, whether for gift scrolling or meeting tight deadlines, exposes you to excessive blue light at night which disrupts melatonin production, the hormone crucial for quality sleep. Scrolling on phones exposes us to excessive blue light which disrupts melatonin production.

Protect your sleep hormones by turning down the brightness on devices and televisions, turning off unnecessary bright home lighting, wearing blue light glasses and filtering the light from your screens when it starts to get dark – unfortunately that no longer means late evening, it means 5pm/6pm.

Gift yourself great sleep

The key takeaway? Be gentle on yourself – sleep is supposed to be restorative, so don’t place any extra stress on yourself and expect perfection.

These tips are here to encourage better sleep habits so you can fully enjoy this time of year.

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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