December means one thing – party season.
Our diaries are jam-packed with festive drinks, Christmas dinners, gatherings and parties, which is all great fun, but also pretty exhausting.
If you’re making up for last year’s bleak festive period with lots of overdue catch-ups, you’re probably already snowed-under with plans – and you might find that it starts to impact your sleep.
Drinking alcohol lessens the quality of our sleep, rich food can make it harder to sleep, and frequent late nights and early rises can mess with your body clock.
So if you’re finding yourself feeling particularly groggy in the mornings, you need to read on for some expert tips for getting the best possible rest during party season.
Dr Kat Lederle, sleep therapist and expert and founder of Somnia, has taken a look at what happens when our sleep gets disrupted, and she has shared her top-tips on how to navigate this throughout the month and into the new year.
We don’t want to be thinking about bedtime while we’re out with friends and family, but sleep is incredibly important for our overall health. In fact, both irregular sleep duration and irregular sleep times are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, a finding that seems particularly strong in women compared to men.
‘Sleep benefits from regular sleep times week in, week out,’ says Dr Kat.
‘Every person has slightly different sleep needs when it comes to duration and timing. Frequent late nights not only shorten the time you have available to sleep – even when the next day is a Saturday or Sunday because your dog still needs to go outside at 8am regardless of when you went to bed – they also bring about erratic sleep patterns.’
Dr Kat says there’s also a ‘bidirectional relationship’ between sleep and eating – meaning the two are intrinsically linked.
‘After a short night, we tend to make unhealthy food choices and opt for sugary, palatable food instead of fruit and veg options the next day,’ she says. ‘Continuing to eat late at night can lead to a higher calorie intake, which can cause weight gain and obesity, but it can also cause diabetes because insulin levels are naturally low at night and the body is also less sensitive to insulin’s message.’
All those Christmas tipples are also having an impact.
‘Alcohol has two effects on sleep,’ says Dr Kat. ‘Initially, it can help you to get to sleep quicker, but later on in the second half of the night, alcohol is metabolised and levels are diminishing. That triggers sleep to be disrupted and it reduces the amount of REM-sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) which plays a crucial role in the processing of your emotional experiences.
‘The lack in REM-sleep might be one reason why we feel grumpy the next day.’
Tips to achieve restful sleep in December
Swap a high-sugar, high-fat diet for a plant-rich diet:
In the run-up to the festive season, Dr Kat suggests choosing a more plant-rich diet to promote healthy sleep and reduce the risk of cardiometabolic diseases.
‘Also, plant-foods are often high in tryptophan (a component in the building of melatonin, the body clock’s signalling molecule telling the body it’s night-time),’ she adds, ‘which can help to improve sleep quality and duration.
‘If you want to eat traditional Christmas foods, then try eating earlier (three to four hours before your usual bedtime).’
Swap alcoholic drinks with alcohol-free:
Dr Kat suggests alternating between alcoholic drinks and alcohol-free, non-sugar drinks – and reduce the amount of fluids in the evening.
She says this helps to minimise sleep disruption caused by alcohol, and fluids generally.
Stay hydrated during the day:
‘Because it is cold outside, we turn up the heating and the air is dryer (outside and inside),’ says Dr Kat. ‘Our lungs have to work harder at keeping the air moist and warm, and that costs fluid. The cold also means the body loses more heat and with that moisture (which is why your skin is dryer in winter).
‘Dehydration can impact sleep indirectly by causing headaches or waking you up because you are thirsty at night.’
Regular sleep times:
A healthy sleep benefits from regular sleep times, but this can be tricky during the festive season. However, Dr Kat says there are a few things you can do to avoid slipping into irregular sleep patterns.
‘Plan your social schedule and make sure that rest nights outweigh the party nights,’ she suggests.
‘Ask yourself, “do I have to attend every party?” It’s not about saying no to all parties or never staying out late, rather it is about choosing when to go and when not to.
‘Having some time alone – and some sleep – helps us to recharge so that we can fully engage at the next party.’
It’s not, however, just your physical health that is affected – Dr Kat adds that a lack of healthy sleep impairs your ability to concentrate and think clearly, weigh up options, make sound, moral decisions, and to be creative.
‘All of this comes at a cost to you and the people around you,’ she says. ‘A simple question from a colleague can become an irritation and you lash out because your inadequate sleep affects your emotional state too.
‘Research has shown that sleep deprived people evaluate both positive and neutral images as more negative.’
Ultimately, sleep is vital – and it’s not something we should be scrimping on – at any time of year.
‘Inadequate sleep also lowers our motivation to socialise and spend time with others, and that really matters given the rise in social isolation,’ says Dr Kat.
‘Human beings need social connections in order to be healthy. By regularly making time for sleep, by regularly taking quality time out, you actually get more out of being with other people. Sleep really is the social glue that binds society together.’
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