Surviving the holidays: Tips to maintain your sleep hygiene

December 2023

As we head into the holiday season, many things can cause stress in your life and disrupt your routine. From visiting with family to attending holiday get-togethers, one of the things that can fall by the wayside is your sleep hygiene.

Healthy sleep habits are so important, even over the holidays. Maintaining your sleep hygiene while enjoying your holidays is critical to a pleasant holiday season.

Let’s dig into sleep hygiene, what it is, why it’s essential, and how to prioritize your sleep throughout the holiday season.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is the healthy habits, behaviours, and environmental factors that can be adjusted to help you get a good night’s sleep. Initially developed as a treatment plan in the 1970s to help those suffering from sleep conditions like insomnia, good sleep hygiene is now widely considered something everyone can benefit from. 

Healthy sleep hygiene is anything that helps you get your required seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

As you age, your sleep needs change. Click here to find out how much sleep you should get each night as you age.

Why are healthy sleeping habits so important?

Sleep hygiene and healthy sleeping habits are important for one simple reason: sleep is essential to our overall health and well-being. 

When people talk about healthy sleep hygiene and habits, they’re talking about finding ways to get better sleep because healthy sleep positively impacts everything from heart and brain function to mental health.

Sleep impacts how your brain functions on a variety of levels. If you’re not consistently getting enough sleep, you can start to see issues with slower reaction times, poor decision-making, situational awareness, and hazard recognition, as well as memory consolidation and pain management.

Sleep helps to clear the brain of metabolites—a substance produced during metabolism. The presence of metabolites has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, so studies suggest that healthy sleep can help to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s in adults.

Also, insufficient sleep can negatively impact your heart health, immune system, and hormone function

Healthy sleep is directly linked to living a longer, healthier life. Therefore, it is vital to prioritize sleep throughout your life, even when juggling traveling, seeing family, and possibly cooking a meal for 20+ people!

Six sleep hygiene tips to help you survive the holidays

With a few simple tips, you can find ways to enjoy the holidays and still feel well-rested. Because there’s nothing worse than making small talk over apple cider when you’re running on four hours of interrupted sleep. 

1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule

Sticking to a schedule for waking up and going to sleep can help your body set its circadian rhythm. This consistency gives your body a predictable routine, which can help you wake up and fall asleep easier.

While sticking to this routine can be difficult during the holidays, give yourself a one-to-two-hour window for wake-up and bedtime. For example, if you usually wake up at 6:30 a.m., give yourself from 6:30-8:30 a.m. on holidays. And if you typically go to bed at 10:00 p.m., give yourself from 10:00-11:30 p.m. to ensure you’re still getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

2. Find time for physical activity

Exercise helps your body build the drive for deep sleep. Try to time your exercise for earlier in the day and get your heart rate up when you do. Vigorous exercise too late in the day may leave you overly activated when bedtime rolls around. Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be at a gym or in a fitness class—you can walk around the block, which will help you get a better night’s sleep.

Check out these ten everyday tasks that get your body moving.

3. Skip the nap

It’s so tempting to take a sneaky afternoon nap on holiday, especially after a heaping serving of turkey! But that thirty-minute nap could harm your overall sleep hygiene. While daytime naps can be great if you’re struggling to sleep, these naps may prevent you from feeling sleepy at bedtime and impact your routine.

4. Make sure you keep your caffeine and alcohol intake in mind

Maybe you wouldn’t usually have a coffee or a drink with dinner, but the lure of Kahlua and coffee or mulled wine is hard to resist during the holidays. While it might not be realistic for you to pass on caffeine and alcohol every time, try to avoid them too close to bedtime as they can interfere with your sleep.

5. Turn off all screens before bed

Did you know over 50% of Canadians check their phones right before they go to bed? This is not the way to get a good night’s sleep! The blue light from your smartphone mimics the blue light from the sun. When you have a lot of this blue light at night, you can throw off your circadian rhythm, convincing your body it is time to be awake.

Don’t worry about that expected delivery or whether or not Aunt Shelley is coming to dinner—those things can wait until the morning. Instead, try leaving your smartphone outside your room when you go to bed at night to ensure you don’t check it throughout the night or first thing in the morning.

6. Prioritize your sleep environment

If you’re travelling over the holidays—or hosting guests at your home and you’ve been displaced from your room—it’s important to make your sleep space as hospitable as possible. While this means something different for everyone, some of the things that may help you include:

  • Use a portable blackout blind to ensure you have a dark sleep space
  • Use an eye mask to create a dark sleep space
  • Bring a sound machine or a fan to fill your room with white noise
  • Use earplugs to help create a quiet space for you to sleep
  • Take your pillow from home to have a comfortable and familiar place to sleep

Above all else, remember that a good night’s sleep will help you feel physically and mentally better, so it makes sense to prioritize sleep over the holiday season.

Want to learn more about healthy sleep? Listen to “Is sleep the key to living a long life?” from the Beyond Age podcast to hear from Dr. Mark Boulos, a sleep specialist from Toronto, Ontario. 

Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.

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