It’s not unusual to find our friends, coworkers and ourselves falling prey to sickness during the year-end holidays, what with all the stress of rushing about shopping, gathering with friends and arranging for and attending special events. And on top of that, trying to nail down our jobs and meet our obligations and deadlines, to say nothing of what it takes to care for a family we’re raising.
All this adds up to additional layers of stress on top of what we may normally experience, which in turn can lead to more sleep-time difficulties — even to new or additional sleep deprivation.
If we experience this added stress and sleep deprivation only during the holidays, we can count ourselves lucky. Nearly 5o percent of all Americans report having insomnia, a catch-all phrase for difficulty in falling and staying asleep, whatever the reason.
If you’re one of those 50 percent or so who report routine sleep difficulties a few nights or every night of the week, that only means the added holiday stress can indeed break down your resistance to disease. Remember, you need a good night’s sleep to nourish and strengthen your immune system.
Another factor during the holidays is the food and drink we consume, often in abundance and often too late at night. These heavy meals, carbohydrates, sweets and alcoholic drinks can just make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Yes, you can probably fall asleep more quickly, but you will also wake up in the night more quickly and easily as well, and then find it hard to get back to sleep.
So is the solution to become a hermit and avoid the holidays, show up after they’re over and give everyone presents after the New Year? If you can afford to take a nice, relaxing, long vacation at year-end, that is definitely one alternative, if not a solution outright.
However, for most of us, we just need to plan better and do everything in moderation. Easier said than done, right? But that’s our constant challenge.
The holidays should serve as a reminder to us that we need to practice stress control and good sleep-hygiene habits year-round. Then if we break our healthy routine just a couple of times a year, it won’t be so devastating on our stress level and overall health.
However, Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says that it can still take several nights of solid sleep to make up for just one late-night indulgence leading to poor sleep.
“The more nights you skimp on sleep, the longer it will take you to catch up,” she says. “Remember that sleep is just as important as food and water. You need all three of them to be healthy.”
Indeed, all the more reason to practice moderation and good sleep hygiene all year.