Tips for avoiding (sleep) debt during the holidays

During the holidays, we can set ourselves up for the accrual of a long-term sleep debt if we don't make sleep a priority. (What is sleep debt?)

Here are some tips for avoiding sleep loss whenever possible and getting the best sleep you can during a hectic time.


What is holiday sleep debt? 

Just like it sounds, it's the systematic expenditure of sleep time over the holiday season, which results in the physical, mental, and emotional health consequences and effects of sleep deprivation.

Many of us "play now, pay later" for all those late or restless nights that happen between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

And we do end up paying later... with compromised immune systems, ongoing fatigue, weight gain, and mood disorders: all the things that result from the accumulation of sleep debt.

How to avoid holiday sleep debt

Reassess your plans.

Socializing is a big part of the holiday season, but how much is too much? If you're out later than usual several nights a week for a couple of weeks in a row, you're going to feel the after effects in January by way of colds and flu, fatigue, and even mild depression.

Try to prioritize your time so you take part in the occasions that mean the most to you, but don't pressure yourself into doing it all, if "doing it all" means illness and exhaustion later.


Simplify your holiday traditions.

You may find yourself just barely able to keep up with decorating the house inside and out, baking food gifts and holiday treats, and managing your holiday card list.

Instead of your usual decorations, see what you can do at a minimum that still captures your holiday spirits.

Consider choosing easier recipes for gifts and meals, or find recipes you can make ahead, so that you can save yourself some time (and stress) in the kitchen.

Sometimes, sending a holiday card in the new year is a refreshing, less stressful alternative to getting all those envelopes stuffed, signed, stamped, and mailed before the holidays.

Any time you can simplify a holiday project means you can give yourself more time for self care, which includes sleep. 

If you can get away with it, sleep until you wake up.

This doesn't work for people who commute in the morning, but if you don't have to be anywhere first thing in the morning, put away your alarm clock and just sleep until you wake up. Then get out of bed and take care of your day as you normally would. You'd be surprised what that last bit of extra sleep in the morning will do for your energy levels. 

Stick to rituals whenever possible.

don't miss out on rituals like bedtime reading with your child to save time at the holidays

The holidays are, of necessity, disruptive. They require you to shift your schedule, make extra plans, and travel, as well as tend to a lot of details and tasks that you normally don't manage.

If you can still achieve a consistent bedtime, or remember to stop drinking caffeine after 3pm to preserve your ability to fall asleep at night, or sneak in that morning walk, do it.

Also, don't skip the things that normally help you relax at night or which reconnect you with the parts of ordinary life that give you strength, like spending time with your children reading books or making phone calls to aging parents who live far away.

Every way that you can stick to practicing good sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques will result in better sleep overall. 

Listen to your body.

If you feel tired or fatigued, it's a sign you probably need a little more sleep, either in the form of a brief afternoon nap or through the act of going to bed a little earlier.

Prepare to be tired after big events like office parties by planning to sleep in the next morning or go to bed earlier the following night.

Take a nap prior to an event you know will keep you up late. 

'Tis the season to treat yourself.


Many people enjoy shopping for gifts for others, but also enjoy purchasing treats for themselves during the holidays. Why not treat yourself to a freshly made bed, a candle-lit bath, aromatherapy, soft music, or a glass of warm milk or sleep-enhancing herbal tea at bedtime?

You could celebrate your own version of the "12 Days of Christmas" by trying out a new, fun and relaxing bedtime ritual each night following a "12 Nights of Christmas" theme. 

However you celebrate your holiday traditions, there's no reason not to ensure that adequate, quality sleep is part of those traditions.

Sleep is not only physically restorative, but it enhances our moods and gives us renewed energy to tackle each day in a season fraught with challenges like bad weather, illness, darkness, traffic, shopping lines, family tensions, and more.

Give yourself the gift of sleep every night you can, and you will truly thank yourself later.

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