While the holidays can be one of the most fun times of the year, most of us will admit it also requires a lot of energy. From traveling long distances to visit relatives, to wading through crowds and long lines at the store, there’s a lot to do during the holidays that can leave us feeling drained if we’re not careful. The good thing is that practicing healthy sleep habits is an easy way to keep spirits bright no matter what the holidays throw at you. Here are four ways that a good night’s sleep helps you survive the holidays.
#1: Keep off the festive fifteen.
Despite what your own dance moves might tell you, your body is constantly undergoing a carefully orchestrated dance of biological rhythm that keeps the functions of your body running at peak performance—but it only works when healthy sleep is running the show. One of the most important biological rhythms that sleep helps balance is between two hormones that control your feelings of hunger and fullness called leptin and ghrelin.
Ghrelin tells your body when it should be hungry, while leptin signals to your body that you’ve eaten enough. A study at the University of Chicago found that operating on four or five hours of sleep decreased concentrations of leptin and increased levels of ghrelin, throwing them out of their proper balance and making you hungrier than you really should be.
This means that when you sit down for Christmas dinner after a good night of sleep, you won’t need to stuff yourself silly, saving yourself from needing to shed those extra pounds come January.
#2. Wake up refreshed and re-energized.
Even if your holidays are busy with fun activities, it can still leave you feeling exhausted. Getting a good night's sleep each night will ensure that you wake up with renewed energy every morning. Remember that a full night of sleep is seven to nine hours, and it’s also a good idea to not make any wild adjustments to your bedtime and wake time while on holiday break. While it’s okay to sleep in a couple of mornings, you really want to keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible, so that you can fall asleep easily each night and wake up with the energy you need each day.
#3. Keep up the positive vibes.
Ah, family—no one gets us like they do, and maybe because of that, no one seems to be able to get under our skin quite like they can. If you’re looking to have less fights and more fun this holiday, you’re best off getting some good sleep. Studies show that people who’ve gotten poor sleep are more likely to be emotionally volatile—basically, your reactions to emotionally-triggering events (say, your aunt’s loudly-spoken less-than-positive review of your banana nut bread) are a bit more intense. Get some good sleep the night before that family gathering so you can roll with the punches and be there for what really matters.
#4. Manage the holiday stress.
Between shopping for gifts, cooking food, traveling, and hosting a house full of people, the holidays can cause quite a lot of stress. While there’s no cure for traffic jams and realizing at the last minute that you forgot to bring a gift for your uncle, healthy sleep is a surefire way to make sure stress doesn’t overwhelm you.
The relationship between stress and sleep looks pretty much like a circle: the less sleep you get, the more likely you are to be stressed, which causes you to lose more sleep, and so on it goes. The best way to help sleep do its job in protecting you from stress is to make sure you take some time at the end of each busy day to unwind, and do something that relaxes you (preferably not involving screens).
Here’s to happier, healthier holidays
The holidays are a great reminder of just how good sleep is at saving the day. Sleep may not seem all that important to us until hectic times like the holidays roll around, when we find ourselves stringing lights up outside in single-digit temperatures, remembering fondly the warmth and rest of our beds. But after all, that’s what the holidays are for—to remind us what really matters, not just then, but all year round.