During the holiday season, it's easy to get caught up in the busyness of hanging up decorations, shopping, wrapping presents, cooking and hosting parties. Because of the limited time to complete all of these activities, many people feel that they can buy themselves more time by spending less time in bed. To make this an enjoyable season, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) encourages people to not allow all that hustle and bustle to put a damper on a good night's sleep.

Alejandro D. Chediak, MD, AASM president, says that our sleep patterns can also be affected in other ways during this time of year. For instance, we stay up late visiting with family and friends that perhaps we haven't seen in a long time. Many people travel during the holidays, which disrupts their normal sleep schedule. Traveling in an airplane across multiple time zones can lead to jet lag, which can, in turn, cause daytime sleepiness.

The holiday season is known to bring on a lot of stress on people. One of the best ways to prevent the stress of the holidays from getting the best of you is to plan ahead, says Dr. Chediak.

"In order to best enjoy the holiday season, anticipate and budget the extra time needed to carry out your holiday 'to-do' list," says Dr. Chediak. "Getting an early start and doing a little bit each day will save time and relieve stress. Delaying your 'to-do' list until the last possible minute not only leads to sleep loss, it also makes one contend with heavier street traffic and bigger and more aggressive crowds in stores."

Recent studies show that sleep loss can affect one's daytime functioning, increase the risk of diabetes, contribute to obesity, strain relationships and lead to depression. The easiest defensive measure one can take is to make sure you are getting a proper amount of nightly sleep, notes Dr. Chediak.

Dr. Chediak offers these suggestions for better sleep during the holiday season:

- Take time to relax. Even if you have a lot to do, allow yourself to stop at a certain point in the evening. Giving your brain time to wind down before bed will help you sleep better.

- Keep your sleep pattern on schedule. Maintain a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Other regular rituals, such as a warm bath, a light snack or a few minutes of reading, also may help.

- Plan ahead for holiday activities. Set aside time earlier in the day to wrap gifts, decorate the house, plan your holiday menu and similar tasks. To stay on track, write these "appointments" in your daily planner.

- If you become drowsy while driving, pull off to a rest area and take a short nap, preferably 15-20 minutes in length.

- Do not eat heavy meals right before bedtime. This might cause heartburn or discomfort, which can prevent you from falling asleep or greatly disturb your sleep.

- Love eggnog? Avoid too much alcoholic eggnog or coffee at evening holiday parties. Alcohol and caffeine can inhibit your normal sleep pattern.

Those who think they might have a sleep disorder are urged to consult with their primary care physician or a sleep specialist.

AASM is a professional membership organization dedicated to the advancement of sleep medicine and sleep-related research.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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