Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on anyone, anywhere, at any age, and at any time of year.
Let's consider the holidays and the added challenges they bring.
How do the holidays add to sleep deprivation?
There are seasonal influences that inform our patterns of behavior and daily life to consider.
Inclement weather can lead to stress and anxiety that can disrupt sleep.
If you must travel at this time of year, the jet lag it might result in, or even just the fatigue of travel, can have an impact on your ability to sleep.
Holiday gift giving, for some, is an economic nightmare of emotional, familial, and social expectations that can riddle bedtime with anxiety and sleep problems.
Whether it's shopping, baking 1000 cookies, sending holiday cards to 100 people, participating in outdoor home decorating competitions, building gingerbread houses, or volunteering for local charities, the additional strain of new projects to be completed in a short period of time creates the kind of stress that results in poor sleep.
Meanwhile, for some, the holidays are a time when positive feelings and energy seem amplified. Expectations can run high and energy can burn fast between shopping junkets, cocktail parties, decking the halls, and preparing for gatherings in the home. All of this can lead to poor sleep hygiene—choosing late nights or early mornings over getting adequate sleep—so as not to miss out on all the fun.
This time of year can be a time of sorrow for those who have lost loved ones; factor in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with the additional presence of the darkest days that arrive at the Solstice and you can bet many people are feeling "under the weather" rather than "in the spirit."
Mood shifts can lead to significant problems with stress and sleep.
Sleep deprivation: 7 ways it can ruin (or at least dampen the spirit of) the holidays
Just as the holidays can wreak havoc on your day-to-day life, even a simple approach to the holiday season can be sideswiped by the side effects of sleep deprivation. Do you know if you're sleep deprived?
Poor judgment. This means you might struggle to make smart decisions about your spending, or you may misread the cues of a conversation you are having with a loved one. It could mean saying or doing things which get you into trouble at home, school, or work.
Shifting moods. It's not unusual for people to experience more emotional highs and lows at the holidays, which naturally bring out personal "baggage." But shifting from joyful and charitable to weepy or apathetic could be a part of the consequences of not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep can greatly alter moods.
Memory problems. Where did you put those gifts you bought last summer? What is the name of your boss's wife? Which neighbors are the ones who have the peanut allergy? What day are we meeting the cousins for brunch? If you struggle to stay on top of holiday activities because of memory issues, you can bet sleep loss has something to do with it.
Car accidents. It's dark out. People are distracted. You are tired and not completely focused on your driving. Don't expect even the quickest trip to the post office to be without risks if you aren't getting enough sleep.
Poor sleep and weight gain. We are all aware of the lure of sweets, feasts, and holiday "spirits" and their eventual impact on the waistline. But being sleep deprived can make it even easier to gain weight, thanks to slowed metabolism, increased appetite, and higher likelihood for overeating.
High blood pressure. Chronic sleep loss contributes to elevations in blood pressure during both night and day. If the holidays are already stressful enough, you can thank sleep debt for making it even more stressful on your heart.
Aggravation of pre-existing health conditions. If you have a chronic illness, you can expect it to get worse if you don't get enough sleep. Your body needs a full night's sleep in order to process and heal. Without it, you're more likely to experience greater fatigue and worsening symptoms, which can mean missing out on special occasions or feeling too poorly to enjoy during the season. What's worse, you could end up in the hospital.
Our gift to you this year is simple: permission to go to bed early and to get enough sleep. Take that long winter's nap, if you need it!
You will more fully enjoy your holidays if you get adequate sleep, and your holidays are less likely to drain you of energy, as well. Let's not forget: the whole idea behind celebration is to gather, share, and rejoice.