This Holiday Season, Don't Skimp On Sleep


Dec 22, 2023

A woman sleeping in her bed at night, photo by demaerre/Getty Images

Photo by demaerre/Getty Images

This commentary originally appeared on Thrive Global on December 22, 2023.

The holiday season is a time filled with joy, celebration, and togetherness, but it can also be a time of heightened stress, anxiety, and sleepless nights. With the uptick in holiday parties, endless shopping lists, travel, and other holiday prep and entertaining, self-care can easily be neglected, and sleep, what many consider to be the foundation of self-care, is often the first thing to go. Sleep is medicine for mind, body, and spirit and is especially necessary during these chaotic times.

Let's be honest, along with the joy and togetherness, the holiday season can also be fraught with emotions and can take a toll on mental health, as we navigate family tensions, feel the pressure of meeting others' expectations, and balance the realities of our relationships versus our fantasies. All of these factors can be a recipe for sleepless nights. On the other hand, getting enough good, quality sleep, is one of the most important things we can do to support emotional resilience. When we are well rested, we are better able to regulate our emotions, we are less moody, less prone to conflict, and better problem-solvers, all of which can foster mental well-being even during the trying times.

Maintaining our physical health is also crucial during this holiday season, so that illness doesn't keep us from enjoying the festivities. There are many claims of supplements, special diets, and other strategies to support healthy immunity, but there is conclusive evidence that people who get the sleep they need have stronger immune systems and are less susceptible to illness. Healthy sleep also supports our bodies' ability to repair and restore, meaning that sleep is good medicine for healthy bodies in general.

Finally, prioritizing sleep is good for our spiritual well-being. It's really hard to find any Zen or inner peace when we don't get enough sleep. However, when we are well slept, it can help us feel more centered and grounded, and can even foster feelings of connection with others and reduce loneliness, all of which can help us navigate the hubbub of the holiday season with a touch of ease and grace.

Despite the many benefits of sleep, it can be challenging to get enough sleep during the busy holiday season. However, there are a few go-to strategies that can help. Start by regularizing your sleep and wake-up routine, as consistency is key for good, quality sleep. Of course, there may be nights when you stay awake a bit later than usual, but try to rein in deviations in your routine to within two hours of your usual bedtimes and wake times. Second, manage stress before it manages you. Meditation, yoga, or any form of regular exercise are great stress-relievers. Finally, be willing to say “no” to social obligations or events that don't serve you.

By prioritizing sleep, we can improve our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, leading to a more fulfilling and enjoyable holiday season. It may be just what the doctor ordered. So, let's make sleep a priority this holiday season and give ourselves the gift healthy mind, body, and spirit.

Wendy Troxel is a senior behavioral and social scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation, an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Utah, and author of Sharing the Covers: Every Couple's Guide to Better Sleep.

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