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Sleeping Great and Staying Energized This Holiday Season

How to beat jet lag and get the rest you need.

Key points

  • To beat jet lag, it helps to adjust one's sleep and wake times to that of the destination a week before the trip.
  • Sugar and dehydration both interfere with good sleep, so it's important to address both.
  • Keeping sleep and wake times consistent is one of the best ways to take care of oneself during the holidays.
Helena Lopes/unsplash
Source: Helena Lopes/unsplash

They’re back! It’s holiday time again, and after a strange (to say the least) holiday season last year, a lot of us are eager to gather with friends and family and celebrate.

The holidays can bring substantial changes to our routines. Amid all the festivities, the routine-busting nature of the holiday season can disrupt our sleep and drain our energy. Busy schedules translate into late bedtimes and crowds out time for physical activity. Parties present us with sugary foods and lots of alcohol. Time with friends and family brings up complicated emotions and sometimes puts us in close quarters with people who are toxic to our emotional health.

The cram-it-all-in pressure of the holidays can leave us stressed, drained, and dragging, physically and emotionally, and way short on the sleep we need to stay healthy and feeling our best. To get through the holidays with energy and sleep intact, we need strategies for keeping our batteries charged and our nightly rest protected.

So let’s talk about how you can navigate these holidays without depleting your energy and losing sleep.

Protect Your Resting Energy

A lot of us are traveling for the holidays for the first time in a couple of years. Remember jet lag? Jet lag can drain the fun right out of a holiday journey. It leaves you feeling fatigued, irritable, foggy-headed, sleepless, and out of sync with your circadian rhythms.

Jet lag gets more severe the farther we travel from our home time zone. A guideline is that it takes a full day to recover from every time zone you cross. And traveling eastbound will have a bigger impact on your sleep and circadian rhythms than traveling west. I’m often quoted as saying East is Least and West is Best!

For all chronotypes and body types, the best way to minimize the impact of jet lag is to adjust your schedule to your destination time as soon as possible. You can start this process before you leave home.

  • The week before your departure, adjust your sleep times, wake times, and meal times closer to the times you’ll be sleeping, eating, and active at your destination. If you’re traveling through a single time zone, you can adjust over a couple of nights to be fully on your destination schedule before you set out. For two or more time zones, adjust your schedule incrementally over a few days, to get closer to your destination time.
  • If you can, sleep during the trip so that you’re less tempted to take a nap before your destination bedtime. Do your best to nap during the times you’d otherwise be asleep according to your destination time zone.
  • When you arrive at your final destination, be sure to follow your new schedule accordingly and don’t turn in for the night until it is bedtime in the current time zone. Don’t go to bed early!

Here are a few other things you can do:

Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate you, which intensifies fatigue, exacerbates concentration issues, and can lead to overeating and/or eating at the wrong times for your new schedule. Dehydration also interferes with sleep. To help your body adjust to maintain your energy, keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum and aligned with your destination schedule.

Stay active. Take a brisk walk first thing in the morning. The physical activity and the sunlight will boost your energy, help your circadian clock and rhythms shift to your new time zone—and help you sleep when nighttime rolls around.

Steer clear of sugar. This is challenging during the holidays, for sure. The insulin spike and sugar rush that comes from sweets will deplete your energy and make it harder for your body to shift to a new schedule. Sugar also interferes with your ability to sleep well at night, whether you’re at home or away.

If you’re staying home for the holidays, the single best thing you can do for your rest is to maintain your regular sleep routine—both bedtimes and wake times—every day (but if you have to pick one it needs to be a consistent wake time). It can be a challenge, with guests and parties and long evenings around the dining table, catching up with friends and family. But our body and mind crave this level of routine—and our healthy sleep depends on it.

I promise you’ll enjoy all the socializing and celebrating more if you continue to get the sleep you need on a nightly basis. If you’re up late and running short on sleep, sleeping in for 30 minutes the next morning shouldn’t interfere with your sleep-wake schedule. Just limit your additional morning sleep to 30 minutes, max.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

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