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How to save the dream of the holidays

Editor’s note: Sign up for CNN’s Sleep, But Better newsletter series. Our seven-part guide has helpful tips for getting better sleep.



CNN

Vacations and stress seem to go hand in hand. To cope, many people often steal hours from their sleeping to pack in all cooking, shopping, gift wrapping, parties and family time.

“Even a night or two of little sleep can have short-term effects on your health, mood and well-being,” said sleep specialist Kristen Knutson, an associate professor of neurology and preventive medicine at the University Feinberg School of Medicine. Northwestern in Chicago, in an email.

“You’ll enjoy your vacation more if you can protect your sleep time, and in fact you can do more if you’re not tired and inefficient from lack of sleep,” he said.

Eating large, heavy meals makes the body work harder to digest food, which can contribute to fatigue, said Steven Malin, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology and health at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“Carbohydrates and protein, as well as fat, induce a number of hormonal changes that can promote changes in serotonin, which is a pleasure hormone that makes you feel good and promotes sleepiness,” he said by email.

Eating smaller portions and taking breaks to check with your body on how full you are can help, said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

“I know this seems cruel, especially when you have a delicious meal in front of you, but this tip can help reduce feelings of sleepiness,” she said.

Try to replace sugary and fatty foods on your holiday plate with more unprocessed, high-fiber foods. These substitutions “slow down digestion, so people feel full longer,” Malin said.

“Another approach is to consider water intake. Consuming enough water before eating can help stretch the stomach and create a feeling of fullness,” he added.

Exercise also helps counter feelings of sluggishness, Malin said. Even standing and moving around the house or neighborhood can help reset that “tired” switch.

And don’t keep eating and eating until weekdays. Digestion slows down when we sleep, which can lead to indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux that can wake us up, Knutson said.

“Ideally, we stop eating 2 or more hours before wanting to go to sleep. If you are hungry before bed, a light snack is fine, but heavy, rich foods should be avoided,” she said via email.

All those Christmas sweets, especially if eaten on an empty stomach while waiting for your meal, can cause wild swings in glucose or blood sugar. Keeping the blood constant throughout the day is the best for the body.

When blood sugar rises, it triggers the release of insulin, which removes glucose from the blood, Malin said.

“Drops in blood glucose due to the removal of insulin from body cells can promote the sensation of ‘crash.’ At the same time, consuming sugar-based foods later in the evening can promote sleep-detracting bursts of energy, making it difficult to fall asleep,” he said via email.

While many of us believe that alcohol helps us fall asleep, it actually impairs sleep quality, Dasgupta said.

“Remember, alcohol can make you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly during the first part of the night. However, alcohol can disrupt sleep for the second half of the night,” she said.

Alcohol acts as a suppressant to the brain, so when we drink too much (or too late at night) we will experience drowsiness. However, by the middle of the night, the liver will have finished metabolizing the alcohol into a stimulant called acetaldehyde, according to Dr. Bhanu Kolla, an addiction psychiatrist and sleep medicine expert at the Mayo Clinic.

“So if you drink too much alcohol right before bed, in about four hours it turns into aldehyde that can disrupt sleep and wake you up,” Kolla told CNN in a previous interview.

If you’re in a deep, restful sleep phase by the time you wake up, that disrupts your brain’s ability to repair and restore cells.

“As with food, try to stop drinking at least two hours before bed to minimize its impact on sleep,” Knutson said.

Many people look forward to that holiday nap, often pointing to the turkey as the cause. First, a bit of demystification: Turkey is not to blame.

“Tryptophan from turkey is unlikely to enter the brain and produce enough serotonin to make us sleepy,” Malin said.

In fact, you would have to eat about 8 pounds for the turkey to take effect, Malin said. Instead, it’s the rich, processed foods, like candied sweet potatoes or pecan pie, that make you feel tired.

If you decide to take a nap, make sure you don’t do it too soon after eating, Dasgupta suggested.

“In general, it’s never a good idea to go to bed right after a big meal, especially if you have heartburn. Also, if you are someone who is dealing with insomnia, I would not recommend taking a nap,” she said.

“But if you’re sleep deprived from the long drive, didn’t get much sleep the night before, and it’s not too late in the day, a 15-20 minute nap is fine,” he added via email. “Just don’t blame the nap on the turkey!”

if you suffer from Anxiety, depression or seasonal affective disorder (a condition that causes sadness when there is less daylight), taking care of your sleep is key, experts say.

“Depression and sleep are related. Lack of sleep can affect our mood, and depression can lead to unhealthy sleep,” Knutson said.

Calming strategies may include a calming transition before going to sleep where you might take a bath, meditate, or listen to calming music. music, he said.

To help calm your mind, keep a notepad by your bed so you can jot down any to-dos that might pop into your head as you try to fall asleep, Knutson suggested.

Another effective strategy is regular exercise. It plays an important role in sleep and depression, experts said, relieving stress and promoting the release of “feel-good” hormones called endorphins.

“Exercise improves sleep by reducing sleep onset, which means it takes less time to fall asleep and decreases the amount of time you spend awake in bed during the night,” Dasgupta said.

“Studies have shown that exercise allows people with insomnia to fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and and enjoy a better quality of sleep,” he said. “Exercise is also a great way to relieve stress and depression, which have been common problems for people around the holidays.”

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