- The stress of the holidays and pandemic may negatively affect your sleep.
- Stress influences sleep and sleep influences stress.
- Thankfully, there are ways to improve your chances of a good night’s sleep.
Along with the joy of the holiday season comes the stress — particularly this year as the pandemic takes its toll.
And when stress is intense, sleep is affected.
According to The Better Sleep Council’s (BSC) The State of America’s Sleep and COVID-19 survey, fewer Americans are getting the minimum recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
In January 2020, 54 percent of those surveyed reported getting 7–8 hours, while a year earlier 60 percent reported doing so.
Based on the survey’s findings, American’s stress levels increased, more Americans feel financially strapped, and fewer use coping mechanisms to deal with stress.
“Sleep and stress both influence our health and well-being,” Terry Cralle, registered nurse and sleep expert at BSC, told Healthline.
Cralle said the more stressed you are, the harder it is to sleep, and the harder it is to sleep, the less sleep you get.
Furthermore, the less sleep you get, the more stressed you become, creating a vicious cycle.
“Before you know it, things have spiraled out of control. At this point, some people will self-medicate — coffee or energy drinks throughout the day, perhaps a nightcap or two before bed — only making the cycle worse,” said Cralle.
Dr. Daniel A. Barone, associate medical director at Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine and author of “Let’s Talk About Sleep,” agreed.
He said stress affects sleep by either causing difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, or leading to sleep that isn’t restorative.
“One of the biggest things I see in my patients is early morning awakenings, which can be due to something physical like sleep apnea, but also something in the stress ‘world’ like mild clinical depression,” Barone told Healthline.
Because of the stress of the pandemic and the fact that it gets darker earlier, he anticipates people experiencing sleep problems this holiday season.
The good news? It is possible to manage stress by managing sleep and vice versa.
In order to ensure the stress of the holiday season doesn’t show up in your sleep, consider the following tips:
Optimizing your sleep environment is the first step in achieving optimal sleep health, said Cralle.
“The mattress is literally the ‘vehicle for sleep’ and should be relaxing and comfortable. Bedding should be comfortable and temperature appropriate. The sleep environment should be as dark and quiet as possible,” she said.
If your mattress has lumps, bumps, or valleys, or is at least 7 years old and causing you aches and pains, Cralle said it might be time to consider investing in a new one.
It’s easy to forgo sleep in order to get more things done, especially during the holidays when you’re up late shopping online and wrapping presents.
However, Cralle said getting sufficient sleep on a consistent basis is one of the most important things you can do to:
- mitigate stress
- achieve mental toughness
- have an improved outlook
- be motivated
- maintain a good mood
- develop resilience
- be more optimistic
“You will feel less stressed, make better decisions, be more efficient and more accurate when you are well-rested. Some research has shown that adults who sleep fewer than 8 hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of stress,” Cralle said.
To ensure you get the sleep you need on a daily basis, Cralle recommends you go to bed at the same time every night.
Rather than sleeping less during the week and hoping to make up for it on the weekend, stick to the same sleep schedule all week.
“Schedule sufficient sleep every day and work around that. You will do more and do it better when well-rested,” she said.
And if your bedtime schedule bothers others, “Don’t be apologetic for your biological need for sleep,” Cralle added.
By creating a bedtime routine at the end of the day, you help prepare the mind and body for sleep.
Barone suggests meditating or engaging in other relaxation techniques before bed and avoiding screens.
“Don’t use screens (smartphone, computer, TV) within 30 minutes of bedtime, and definitely not in the middle of the night,” said Barone.
Instead of screens, Cralle suggests reading, working on a crossword puzzle, coloring, or knitting.
“A great way to relieve stress (and that mind-racing that can occur when your head hits the pillow) is to be distracted with a ‘bedtime story.’ Listen to an audiobook on a timer to distract you from your stresses of the day,” she said.
The BSC also suggests the following:
- Drinking a relaxing drink like a cup of tea made of chamomile, lavender, and valerian steeped in hot water 1 hour before bedtime.
- Playing soft meditation music on a timer or wearing earplugs to block out sounds.
- Lighting sleep scents, such as lavender or sandalwood.
- Changing into 100 percent cotton pajamas for a soft, soothing feel or moisture-wicking pajamas if you get hot while sleeping.
If your finances are bothering you, schedule a specific time each week to think about them or discuss them with your partner, so they don’t pop up at bedtime and in your nightmares.
Cralle said making a list during the day about other worries can help, too.
“This is a combination to-do list, including a list of things to ‘worry about.’ Life’s inevitable stressors can seem much more manageable on paper than when swirling around in your head when you should be sleeping,” she said.
Writing down three good things that happened during waking hours is another activity.
“This will help put you in a nice mindset, which is crucial for relaxing and falling asleep,” Cralle said.
The quality of your diet influences the quality of your sleep, said Cralle.
“A healthy diet supports healthy sleep, while healthy sleep supports a healthy appetite and healthy food choices,” she said.
The BSC suggests finishing eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime, so your body is ready to relax.
The use of alcohol can also have an effect on sleep problems and should be reduced.
“Holiday festivities, even during COVID, can mean many opportunities to enjoy adult beverages. Discontinue drinking alcohol several hours before bedtime to help ensure good sleep quality,” Cralle said.
“While drinking alcohol close to bedtime may help you fall asleep, it will end up disrupting the sleep cycle later in the night,” she explained. “The fragmented and fitful sleep that occurs when the alcohol is metabolized will leave you tired and unrefreshed the following day.”
Barone added that even drinking just water right at bedtime can cause awakenings, too.
Working out at least 30 minutes a day can prepare your body for a good night’s sleep.
If you’re not big into exercising, Cralle recommends yoga or walking outside.
“Exercise reduces anxiety and helps you sleep. Even a 10-minute walk is a positive contributor to sleep quality,” she said.
To prepare your body best for sleep, Barone suggests exercising regularly, ideally in the morning. If you prefer later in the day, the BSC recommends completing your workouts at least 2 hours before you go to bed, so your body has time to get into rest mode.