An expert in cognitive behavioral therapies targeting better sleep provides six strategies to help you ward off sleeplessness during the holidays.
This may be the most wonderful time of the year, but the holidays can also cause sleepless nights for many people. Nicole Moshfegh, author of The Book of Sleep: 75 Strategies to Relieve Insomnia, says the biggest reason insomnia increases around the holidays is because anxiety often ramps up during the season.
“Though most people associate the holidays with happy times and having fun, even positive events can be very stressful,” said Moshfegh, who, in addition to running her own private practice, is the lead attending psychologist with the Behavioral Wellness Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Usually there’s a lot of planning to do and figuring out how things are going to come together. Sometimes, even challenges with family, which are very common, can trigger stress as well as loneliness.”
An expert in cognitive behavioral therapies targeting better sleep, Moshfegh provides the following strategies to help you fight insomnia during the holidays.
Stick to Your Normal Sleep Routine
It may be tempting to stay up late with old friends, but the best way to avoid insomnia is to adhere to your normal sleep schedule. If you are usually in bed by 10 p.m., then staying up until midnight is a no-go, according to Moshfegh. “It’s not only really important that you stick to your normal sleep routine, but also to make sure you have good basic sleep hygiene practices in the first place,” she said. Sleep hygiene refers to a set of practices and habits that set the stage for a good night’s sleep, she said. This may mean, for example, creating a sleep sanctuary in your completely dark and quiet bedroom, establishing a bedtime ritual, or relying on stress-relief tools like meditation.
Just the logistics of getting that perfect present, throwing the most fun party, or hosting the holiday cookie exchange can cause a meltdown. Moshfegh emphasized that if you are prone to anxiety, try to head it off with a little extra pre-holiday planning. Rather than doing everything at the last minute, start planning your party a month or so out. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Remember that you probably have people that you can call on for some extra assistance,” she said. “If you’re planning a holiday gathering, for example, maybe you want to turn it into a potluck instead of doing all the cooking yourself. Or you can ask for help with the cleanup process.”
Don’t Drink (Too Much)
It’s very tempting to reach for that extra glass of eggnog spiked with rum, but Moshfegh stressed you should limit the amount of alcohol you drink—particularly right before bedtime. “A nightcap is definitely not a good idea,” she said. “Most people think alcohol helps us with sleep, but it’s just the opposite—what happens is that it sedates us so the quality of sleep is pretty poor and you will wake up the next day not feeling very well-rested at all.” In fact, Moshfegh explained that when we’re sedated by alcohol we’re not actually sleeping, but instead experiencing frequent wake-ups during the night.
Schedule Worry Time
Emotions we haven’t dealt with—especially around family—can trigger insomnia during the holidays, according to Moshfegh. She said that the best way to alleviate this is to be proactive in dealing with the emotions causing the insomnia. The worst time to be confronting those emotions, however, is while tossing and turning during a sleepless night. Instead, Moshfegh advised dedicating a set time during the day to addressing these feelings. “Be open to journaling, praying, or meditating at that time,” she said. “Perhaps even just talking to friends, family members, and loved ones about what’s bothering you can help prevent some of that from coming up in the middle of the night.”
Get Out of Bed
Sometimes, in spite of all the meditating, praying, or journaling we do, we just can’t sleep. If you find yourself lying in bed, wide awake, Moshfegh said the best thing you can do is to get up. The worst thing you can do is to start associating your bed with sleeplessness. “If you still can’t sleep after 20 minutes, the best practice is to get out of bed and do something that maybe you would have done in your wind-down period before bed; something that’s pleasant but not overly stimulating like, for example, reading.”
Use Cognitive Distraction Techniques
So, what happens if you still can’t sleep? Moshfegh provided this tip: Say the word “the” over and over until you’re drowsy. “Counting sheep generally doesn’t work for most people, but there are other things that you can try that are very simple, and quite effective.” Another trick she provided was to do mental arithmetic. “Counting backwards by seven from 100, for example, allows us to not pay as much attention to the thoughts keeping us awake.”
Try these tips for insomniacs with busy minds.