Maybe Scrooge and the Grinch just needed a good night’s sleep. Seasonal sleep loss during the holidays can make anyone growl, “Bah, humbug!” Making sleep a priority is one way to enjoy a happier and safer holiday season.
“Holidays are a time for enjoying family and friends,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine spokesperson Dr. Lawrence Epstein. “But the holiday activities can lead to significant sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, the need for sleep doesn’t change.”
According to the AASM, most adults need about seven to eight hours of nightly sleep. But sleep is often swept aside by the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
AASM spokesperson Dr. Alejandro Chediak says that you should plan ahead so you can get enough sleep during the holidays.
“In order to best enjoy the holiday season, anticipate and budget the extra time needed to carry out your holiday ‘to-do’ list,” he said. “Getting an early start and doing a little bit each day will save time and relieve stress. Delaying your ‘to-do’ list until the last possible minute…only leads to sleep loss.”
It isn’t just the hectic pace of the holidays that causes sleep loss. It’s also the way you may alter your daily routines. Your body functions best when you keep a regular schedule: Wake times. Meal times. Sleep times. But everything can change during the holidays.
Late-night parties and early-morning sales cause sleep loss. Visiting family and friends may involve different meal times and later bed times. Time off from work allows you to sleep in much later than normal. Long flights can cause you to suffer from jet lag
To make matters worse, the lack of daylight during the holiday season can lead to sleep problems related to seasonal affective disorder
. This year the “winter solstice” occurs on Dec. 21 in the northern hemisphere. This is the shortest day of the year.
All of these sleep problems can put you in danger of drowsy driving
. Sleep experts recommend that you take precautions to ensure your safety when driving during the holidays.
“Don’t drive if you are sleepy,” said Epstein, the medical director of Sleep HealthCenters in Brighton, Mass. “If you are going to be staying up late, try to get some extra sleep.”
To stay alert on the road you should try to avoid driving late at night. It also helps if you avoid driving alone. On a long trip, try to share driving duties with a passenger.
If you get sleepy on the road, pull over at a rest stop and take a brief nap. Although caffeine is no substitute for sleep, it can give your alertness a short-term boost.
Epstein also warns that your risk of drunk driving increases when you are sleepy.
“Being sleepy magnifies the alcohol’s detrimental effect,” he said.