HIBBING — Though the holiday season is meant to be a joyous occasion, it can also lead to more tossing and turning at night as people struggle with sleep.
Fifty to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). During the holidays, that number can increase as stress piles on and alcohol consumption levels increase.
Though meant to be a spirited time of year, the ingestion of spirits is among the biggest culprits in sleep problems during the holidays, said Dr. Paul Windberg, sleep medicine physician at Fairview Range Medical Center’s (FRMC) Sleep Lab.
“One of the main things with (the holidays) is alcohol,” he said. “It definitely affects your sleep and makes it worse.”
Though alcohol may help you nod off, health professionals say the quality of your sleep is much worse than if you did ingest alcohol.
Windberg said people often think of alcohol as a sleep aid because it’s a depressant. But drinking before you go to sleep doesn’t give the body the time it needs to process the chemicals, leading to a more fragmented night of Zs.
“The sleep that you’re going to get with all that alcohol in your system is terrible,” he said. “It’s a really bad drug to use as a sleeping pill.”
A large proportion of the patients that come into FRMC’s Sleep Lab suffer from sleep apnea, and alcohol is an especially bad mix for those people too. Alcohol’s depressant qualities often relax the muscles in your neck and throat, which can lead to a blocked airway while sleeping, according to Windberg.
Alcohol isn’t the only thing to blame for a lack of sleep during the holidays, however. The simple fact that Christmas and Thanksgiving fall during cold weather months can affect sleep too.
A lack of exposure to sunlight can often lead to levels of depression higher than other times of the year, and there is a link between depression and many sleep-related problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
And the holidays themselves can add stress as people scramble to prepare for family get-togethers, Windberg said.
Family fights during holidays are often depicted in pop culture, and while they are exaggerations, versions of it in real life can cause more stress than usual.
“If you’re prone to depression or anxiety, just dealing with the holiday scene can lead to a relative crisis this time of the year,” Windberg said.
Apart from monitoring alcohol use and making sure to get regular sunlight, professionals advise people to keep a regular sleep schedule that includes the recommended eight hours of sleep.
Though the hectic holiday schedule may cause stress in people at times, keeping sleep in mind can ensure one’s batteries are recharged for one of the year’s most busy seasons.
Tips for a good night’s sleep during the holidays
• Limit alcohol consumption. If having a drink or two, try to have it earlier in the evening so your body can digest it before you lay down.
• Stay consistent in your sleep times. Try to get to bed around the same time each evening, allowing enough time to get a proper night’s sleep.
• If you’re tossing and turning for more than 30 minutes, get up and read to take your mind off of it.
• Exercise regularly, preferably in the afternoon. Raising the body temperature before you go to sleep may help.
• Keep temperatures in the house or room of sleep fairly consistent.
• If major issues continue, sleeping alone, even if married, is best.
• Change the atmosphere if having trouble by switching to the guest bed if possible.
Source: Dr. Paul Windberg, Fairview Range Medical Center.