Let these tips help you slumber peacefully this holiday season.
Whether you experience periodic bouts of sleepless nights or ongoing sleep deprivation, research shows that a chronic lack of sleep can contribute to depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The solution: Get more rest. But sometimes, that’s simply not an option, especially during the chaos that comes with the holiday season. Consider these ways to alleviate sleep-deprivation symptoms, such as irritability, lack of focus, and sluggishness, so you can lessen long-term ill effects.
Eat well and trade caffeine for adaptogens
When you are sleep deprived, the adrenal glands’ stress response produces the hormone adrenaline, leading to nervous energy and lack of focus, says herbalist Roy Upton, RH, executive director, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia in Scotts Valley, California. Upton recommends adaptogenic supplements to help pacify adrenaline so you can regain mental equilibrium. Take 1–3 grams of dried powdered reishi per day or 1 gram of high-quality Asian ginseng as tea, extract, or powder between meals to increase long lasting energy. Results may take up to a week.
Likewise, it’s easy to reach for coffee when you haven’t gotten enough sleep, says Upton, but stimulants can make you distracted and jittery. Instead, choose nervines, herbs used to calm nerves, support the nervous system, and provide sustained, relaxed energy. Taking 2–4 ml of avena extract (from fresh fruiting wild oat) per day can improve mental performance and increase stress resistance.
A lack of sleep can also impair your immune system, explains sleep specialist Edward Bixler, PhD, Penn State Hershey Medical Center. This, he says, makes you more susceptible to colds and flus and even more tired. To prevent sickness, eat smart. Choose unprocessed foods as much as possible, including vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries and broccoli.
Exercise and breathe
“Exercise increases circulation and speeds up your ability to process and eliminate adrenaline,” says Upton. Morning is best for exercising because it prepares your body’s metabolism for the day, improving efficiency, digestion, and respiratory function. Aim for at least 20 minutes of heart rate–boosting exercise daily.
Even if you can’t get out to exercise, it’s important to move your body. “Inactivity stagnates energy, especially when you’re behind a computer,” says Janet Solyntjes a meditation instructor at the Center for Courageous Living in Boulder, Colorado. Mindful movement and energy awareness help synchronize your mind with your body, reawakening natural energy. Solyntjes suggests taking a break from reading emails to stretch.
Solyntjes also suggests getting outside. “When you miss sleep, artificial light can be draining, interrupting circadian rhythm—physical, mental, and behavioral changes from light and darkness,” she explains. Being outside is valuable because you are exposed to sunlight and can engage your senses with the natural world. Go for a 20-minute walk and focus on what you see, smell, and hear, she suggests.
Understand your sleep needs and pattern
Six to eight hours of sleep per night is an average figure. Some people need more; others perform optimally with less. Figuring out how much sleep you need is the first step to handling sleep deprivation, says Bixler. Ask yourself your probability of falling asleep after lunch, while riding as a passenger in a car, reading a book, or watching television. If the likelihood is high, you’re not meeting your sleep requirements.
Some studies suggest people, especially women, can replenish lost sleep. For example, if you sleep six hours per night during the week but need more, make up some of the hours over the weekend. Developing regular wake and sleep schedules helps your body adapt into the rhythm of snoozing less during the week and more on the weekend. This can increase mental performance and reduce long-term stress.