The holidays are a time to take stock of what really matters in life—our health and happiness, and the health and happiness of our loved ones—as well as a time for renewal, to give ourselves the grace of rest and reflection to ensure that we are heading into the new year putting our best foot forward. In that spirit, there’s nothing we could recommend more highly than using this holiday to reset your sleep habits if they’ve fallen a little to the wayside during the course of this year (and, honestly, who could blame you?).
Here are some of the most common sleep health problems we see folks having this year, and some simple ways you can reset your sleep health and establish better habits going into 2022.
Problem: Too much screen time
If you’re like ¼ of Americans, you probably spend some time on your phone right before bed, but did you know this may actually be hurting your sleep?
To help you get to sleep, your body disperses the hormone melatonin, which creates the drowsy feeling we associate with being tired. The signal to your brain to disperse melatonin is a decrease in perceived sunlight, but the blue LED lights found in most of our favorite screens actually mimic sunlight, delaying the onset of melatonin and making it harder for us to fall asleep.
Solution: Enjoy some screen-free time
This holiday, why not commit to cutting back on screen time altogether (with the exception of video calls to friends and family, of course)? Our devices will be with us all year long, but the holidays are an opportunity to get back to basics—spending some face-to-face time with the folks in our home, and enjoying some of the low-tech hobbies we’ve been neglecting for Facebook and Instagram. As a bonus, less screen time before bed will help you get a better night’s sleep!
Problem: Stress overload
The numbers don’t lie: 67% of American adults state that they’ve had increased stress over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been no shortage of stress-causers this year, so it’s a good idea to use the holiday to step back and take a deep breath. This will be better for your sleep, and for your mental health overall.
Solution: Break the cycle
As it relates to sleep, stress tends to get us caught in a vicious cycle: more stress means more mental stimulation at night, as well as physical symptoms like increased heart rate and tense muscles, all making it harder to get to sleep...with the resulting sleep deprivation keeping your body in a stressed state, and weakening your ability to deal with stressful problems.
To break out of this vicious cycle, it’s important to deal with your stress head-on this holiday.
- Try to slow things down before bed. Journaling about your day is a simple (and screen-free) way to get any particular anxieties out of your head and down on the page, and it has proven benefits to your overall mental health. Journaling not really your thing? Clearing your head with relaxing music or a calming podcast are alsor great options.
If you notice that stress frequently prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor. Sleep deprivation is nothing to mess around with. For help dealing with prolonged stress, there’s no better place to turn than to your healthcare professional.
Problem: Too much time inside
Over the past few months, we’ve become well accustomed to virtual meetings, virtual hangouts, virtual birthdays, and virtual job interviews, all while being stuck inside the all-too-real walls of our homes. But our bodies can’t really adjust to the “quar” quite as well as we can—they still rely on all-natural signs like sunlight as a way to keep their intricate systems moving.
Solution: Step out in the sun
Taking a walk is a great way to get some fresh air and avoid cabin fever, and it helps to keep your sleep schedule in order too! Even just a little bit of sun exposure can ensure your circadian rhythms (your body’s way of determining what functions it performs throughout the day) stay in tune with the outside world. This way, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to get to sleep at night, instead of spending an hour staring up at the ceiling. Just remember to bundle up before you head out!
Problem: Putting sleep on the back burner
Throughout the year, most of us tend to let sleep fall lower and lower on our list of priorities in order to make room for work, play, and other activities.
Solution: Prioritize those zzz’s
This holiday, give yourself permission to indulge in your sleep:
- Be intentional about bedtime. Pick a time every night that you want to be laying down and ready for bed, and try to keep this time consistent throughout the week. As mentioned before, bedtime should be free of screens, and it’s a good idea to keep your exposure to artificial lights to a minimum as well, in order to give your body the signal that it’s sleepy time.
- Although it may sound obvious: when you’re feeling tired, go to bed! Don’t try and fight it just to stay up for “one more episode.”
- Give your morning alarm a rest, and let your body wake up naturally over the holiday. This way, you’ll give your body enough time to go through the entire sleep cycle, so you can wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Cheers to a new year
- This year has been tough for so many reasons, but we want to encourage you to use this holiday to give yourself a break, embrace the positive possibilities of the upcoming new year, and go forward into 2021 well-rested and renewed.