Tis the season to be (not too) jolly!
Certainly the Christmas holidays are a time of celebration. But too much alcohol, especially late in the evening, hugely impacts our sleep, and therefore wellbeing. Although it ‘loosens us up’, alcohol is actually a sedative effectively knocking parts of our brain off-line. The first parts to succumb are the ones normally controlling impulse behaviour, giving us that socially uninhibited feeling. However, other brain parts soon follow and it can be hard to stay awake. But it’s closer to the truth to say we are knocked out, rather than sleeping after significant alcohol consumption. Our quality of sleep is actually poor - in fact, alcohol is the most potent inhibitor of dream (REM) sleep known to man! In addition, after a heavy night of drinking our sleep is more likely to be interrupted as the night progresses. Unfortunately due to alcohol’s effects we normally don’t remember, and so don’t associate drinking with poor sleep. So drinking less, particularly later in the evening is a good way to avoid the dreaded post Christmas crash.
Keeping it regular
While the holidays are a welcome chance to break with routine, it can leave us feeling quite disorientated. A good way to offset this is by getting daily exposure to natural sunlight - taking a walk, or, if you prefer, jogging. While it’s tempting to stay indoors all day at this time of year, our bodies need natural daylight to help keep in sync. Our so-called circadian rhythms, or body clocks are strongly sensitive to this cue.
Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to sleep the night after a long sleep-in? That’s because sleeping in too long also puts us out to sync - effectively like a mini jet lag. So even after a late night it’s best not to sleep in too long, nor go to bed too late the following night. Studies have shown that keeping regular bedtimes and wake up times leaves us feeling more energised than an irregular schedule. Try it - your body will let you know!
Avoiding afternoon naps is another great way to get a better night’s sleep, and feeling more refreshed the following day. During the day we build up a natural sleep drive or ‘appetite’, and late afternoon napping is like badly timed snacking - it’s disturbs our appetite for the main course - a good restful night’s sleep.
We wish you a joyful, and restful festive holidays!
Dr Chris Murphy, Sleep Organic