There are many things to look forward to at the holidays. Among them are the usual things: hanging with friends and family, giving and receiving gifts, the general good cheer of the folks in your neighborhood and workplace and maybe more free time to contemplate changes at the new year. One benefit that I always look forward to is the chance to get adequate, and regular, sleep. So maybe you haven’t booked your high-end sleep away holiday or aren’t jetting off to an exotic tropical local for the New Year break. You could , however, make a conscious effort to rest more.
While the holiday season isn’t necesasrily like a vacation – what with the stress of family gatherings and such – we are afforded a bit more time to try to relax. We can “sleep in” on many days or maybe even take daily naps if that is not our norm. This is a good thing. Sleep affords us some pretty important system rebuilding and recovery time for staying healthy and energized. Here are a few things to keep in mind about the benefits of sleep and some suggestions for optimizing your rest.
GETTING IDEAL SLEEP
The old saying “you snooze, you lose” has a very practical application to your health. Not enough sleep is a risk factor for weight gain and it may increase stress hormone levels, blood pressure and inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a key indicator of a system in distress. That said, oversleeping can also indicate some system dysfunction. We need differing amounts of sleep depending on our age and what’s happening in our lives. Generally, adults should be getting about 8 hours of sleep a night so if you are regularly in the 7 to 9 hour range and you fall asleep and wake up pretty easily – you’re good.
Eliminate caffeine in all forms after 2PM. Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours in your body. Make sure you give it plenty of time to dissipate so you can “shut down” your systems for bed time.
Ban all light emitting gadgets from the bedroom. Research shows that these “blue light” emitting devices disrupt the normal regulation of melatonin. Melatonin is the main hormone that regulates your sleep and waking cycles. I use f.lux™ on my laptop and phone so when working after dark the light spectrum being omitted from my screen is less stimulating (suppressing melatonin) to my brain.
Keep it cool, quiet and dark. This might seem obvious, but a cooler, quieter and darker space will trigger all the right body chemistry – assuming you haven’t altered it in any significantly stimulating way in the couple of hours leading up to bed time.
Ideally, if you get enough sleep you will wake up naturally, without an alarm clock. The alarm interrupts the natural sleep cycle. Some alternatives to an alarm are the use of a dawn simulator or switching your clock or wake up gadget to using a mellow station on Pandora or Rdio. That way you slowly come to life vs being jarred awake.
Avoid the snooze alarm. It confuses the your body’s regulation of serotonin and dopamine. These are neurotransmitters involved in the “chillax” and “get up and go” modes of your body. As an adult, if you are getting between 7 and 9 hours a sleep nightly then you will likely not need the alarm at all. I don’t use one and I get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep most nights.
These are just few tips from decades of research on sleep. Try just one of these this holiday season and pay attention to your experience at bed time and the next morning. If you have any other favorite tactics then please share in the comments. Have a happy rest-filled New Year everyone!