Here’s How to Sleep Great and Stay Energized through the Holidays

Here’s how to sleep great and stay energized through the holidays

They’re back! It’s holiday time again, and after a strange (to say the least) holiday season last year, a lot of us are eager to gather with friends and family and celebrate. 

The holidays can bring substantial changes to our routines. Amid all the festivities, the routine-busting nature of the holiday season can disrupt our sleep and drain our energy. Busy schedules translate into late bedtimes and crowds out time for physical activity. Parties present us with sugary foods and lots of alcohol.  Time with friends and family brings up complicated emotions and sometimes puts us in close quarters with people who are toxic to our emotional health.

The cram-it-all-in pressure of the holidays can leave us stressed, drained, and dragging, physically and emotionally, and way short on the sleep we need to stay healthy and feeling our best.  To get through the holidays with energy and sleep intact, we need strategies for keeping our batteries charged and our nightly rest protected.

Maximizing your body’s natural energy stores and elevating your sleep is the subject of my new book: Energize!:  Go From Dragging Ass to Kicking It in 30 Days. I wrote Energize with Stacey Griffith, a founding instructor of SoulCycle. Stacey and I have known each other for years. Bringing together my expertise in sleep and chronotype and Stacey’s expertise in metabolism and movement was a fascinating journey for both of us and resulted in a book I’m excited to share with you. 

Energize! brings together the latest scientific understanding of chronotype and metabolic type (aka body type). Our chronotype and our metabolic type are both determined by our genes. And just as every chronotype has an optimal routine for the when of daily life—the timing of sleeping, eating, exercising, working hard, taking it easy—our individual metabolic types have different genetically driven needs for movement, rest, and recovery, in order to build strength, stamina, flexibility, and maximize physical and mental energy. Establishing daily routines and habits based on chronotype and body type is the remedy for the stress, fatigue, weight gain, low mood and restless sleep that affect so many of us.

Don’t know your chronotype? Take this quiz: www.chronoquiz.com.

Together, Stacey and I dug deep into the scientific research (and conducted research of our own) to develop personalized daily protocols for sleeping, eating and activity for every chronotype and metabolic type. Energize! is a step-by-step guide to creating individualized routines and habits that help you shed fatigue, stress, sleeplessness, and low mood, and reclaim abundant energy and vitality in your daily life, using your body’s unique circadian and metabolic biology as a roadmap.

Holidays are an important time to think about how to protect your energy and sleep—especially this holiday season, when so many of us are eager to reunite with family and a little (or more than a little) out of practice at the challenge of balancing rest and activity, and maintaining healthful routines, during the holiday sprint.

So let’s talk about how you can navigate these holidays without depleting your energy and losing sleep.

Protect Your Resting Energy: Get ahead of jet lag to minimize its impact (and stick to your regular sleep routine if you’re staying at home)

A lot of us are traveling for the holidays for the first time in a couple of years. Remember jet lag? Jet lag can drain the fun right out of a holiday journey.  It leaves you feeling fatigued, irritable, foggy-headed, sleepless and out of sync with your circadian rhythms. Jet lag gets more severe the farther we travel from our home time zone. A guideline is that it takes a full day to recover from every time zone you cross. And traveling eastbound will have a bigger impact on your sleep and circadian rhythms than traveling west. I’m often quoted as saying East is Least and West is Best!

For all chronotypes and body types, the best way to minimize the impact of jet lag is to adjust your schedule to your destination time as soon as possible. You can start this process before you leave home.

  • The week before your departure, adjust your sleep times, wake times, and meal times closer to the times you’ll be sleeping, eating, and active at your destination. If you’re traveling through a single time zone, you can adjust over a couple of nights to be fully on your destination schedule before you set out. For two or more time zones, adjust your schedule incrementally over a few days, to get closer to your destination time.
  • If you can, sleep during the trip so that you’re less tempted to take a nap before your destination bedtime. Do your best to nap during the times you’d otherwise be asleep according to your destination time zone.
  • When you arrive at your final destination, be sure to follow your new schedule accordingly and don’t turn in for the night until it is bedtime in the current time zone. Don’t go to bed early!

Here’s a pro tip that can make adjusting your schedule during travel so much easier: I travel constantly, and I use the Timeshifter app (www.timeshifter.com) to help my shift my routine when I’m traveling long distances. Timeshifter takes information about your chronotype, your home base and destination locations, and your flight times and does the work for you to create a personalized schedule for when to eat, when to get light exposure, when to sleep (and nap), when to consume caffeine, and when to take melatonin.

What else can you do to minimize the effects of jet lag while you’re on the road this holiday season?

Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine will dehydrate you, which intensifies fatigue, exacerbates concentration issues, and can lead to overeating and/or eating at the wrong times for your new schedule. Dehydration also interferes with sleep. To help your body adjust maintain your energy, keep alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum, and aligned with your destination schedule.

Stay active. Take a brisk walk first thing in the morning. The physical activity and the sunlight will boost your energy, help your circadian clock and rhythms shift to your new time zone—and help you sleep when nighttime rolls around.

Steer clear of sugar. This is challenge at the holidays, for sure. The insulin spike and sugar rush that come from sweets will deplete your energy and make it harder for your body to shift to a new schedule. Sugar also interferes with your ability to sleep well at night, whether you’re at home or away.

If you’re staying home for the holidays, the single best thing you can do for your rest is to maintain your regular sleep routine—both bedtimes and wake times—every day (but if you have to pick one it needs to be a consistent wake time. It can be a challenge, with guests and parties and long evenings around the dining table, catching up with friends and family. But our body and mind crave this level of routine—and our healthy sleep depends on it. I promise, you’ll enjoy all the socializing and celebrating more if you continue to get the sleep you need on a nightly basis. If you’re up late and running short on sleep, sleeping in for 30 min the next morning shouldn’t interfere with your sleep-wake schedule. Just limit your additional morning sleep to 30 minutes, max.

Protect your Eating Energy: Embrace the small plate (and take your time)

Holidays present a challenge for sticking to the balanced eating routines that support healthy sleep and optimize our energy and vitality. Holidays are no different than any other days of the year in this respect: food is fuel, and what we eat determines how well we’re able to sustain energy throughout the day and has a significant influence over how well we sleep at night. And sleep has a big impact on how well our metabolism functions.

You can enjoy holiday meals without depleting your energy by putting the small plate to work for you. Skip the giant dinner plate and grab a smaller, salad-size plate from the buffet. You’ll naturally take smaller portions, which help you maintain moderation, even if your food choices are limited or different from what you’re eating regularly.

Take your time eating everything on your plate. Eating slowly gives your digestive system a break and gives your brain time to receive the message that you’re full. (Research shows that it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to produce proteins involved in neural communication signaling satiety.)

Eating slowly from a small plate encourages enjoyment of food—and encourages socializing while eating. You can always go back for more if you find you’re still hungry.

Understanding your chronotype equips you with the optimal times for when to eat throughout the day. Keep in mind these other eating-for-energy strategies that apply to every chronotype and body type:

Stay hydrated. We often misread thirst for hunger and end up consuming food when what we need is fluid. Pay particular attention to drinking plenty of water during the holiday season. Rather than having back-to-back cocktails at your holiday parties, switch to water after a glass of wine or that spiced rum concoction that your sister-in-law makes every year.  You’ll thank yourself later when you drift off for a night of sound, restful sleep.

Here are recipes for 3 non-alcoholic drinks that can help you sleep better this holiday season.

Fill up on fiber. Veggies, fiber-rich hard fruits like apples and pears, and nuts are always around at the holidays—but they often get passed over for the sweet and starchy fare. Focus your plate on fiber-filled foods that keep your insulin in check, your energy levels high, and set you up for a restful night of sleep. (A quick word about nuts: opt for raw whenever you can, and limit consumption of roasted, salted, and sugar-coated versions.)

Here’s a guide to the best foods for sleep.

Protect your Movement Energy: mini workouts for the win!

Short bursts of movement—throughout the day, every day—are key to sustaining energy, boosting strength, power, flexibility, and endurance. We’ve been conditioned to think that long, grueling workouts are the way to get in shape. Not so. My co-author, Stacey, is a lifelong athlete who changed her body and elevated her fitness and strength to a new level after she adopted a routine of daily short workouts. Together, Stacey and I developed customized movement routines for EVERY chronotype and body type combination. Whether you’re a Lion, Bear, Wolf or Dolphin, with a slow, medium, or fast metabolism—we’ve got you covered.

Our movement plans are based on what we call the Daily 5×5: five-minute movement sessions, 5 times a day. They cover the whole body, and the timing and type of movement are aligned to each individual pairing of chronotype and body type.

Here’s the thing about the Daily 5×5, and short workouts in general. They’re not only optimal for every day. They’re also perfect for the holiday season, when there’s so much extra…everything happening. When you’re taking a few minutes to move at several points throughout the day, there’s zero pressure to carve out 30 or 60 minutes for a workout. At home or away from home, no matter how busy you are, all you need to do is snag five minutes at a time for some movement.

Let the Daily 5×5—and all the science that supports the benefits of frequent short workouts—inspire your holiday exercise routine. If you’re feeling crunched for workout time over the next several weeks, go ahead and break your exercise into a few short sessions, incorporating the walking, gentle stretching, yoga, cardio, and strength training you’re already doing.

And grab a copy of Energize! to learn how to integrate the Daily 5×5 into your everyday routine.

Protect your Emotional Energy: Take some alone time

Holidays present some pretty complex emotional terrain for a lot of us. A return to the “normal” holiday routines is likely to include a return to the emotional and interpersonal stress we’ve experienced in the past. Pressure to feel happy and excited, the busyness of social commitments, travel, gift buying and party planning and decorating, time spent with people who are toxic to our emotional health—it all creates stress that drains our energy and disrupts our nightly rest. The emotional drain of the holidays may be even more intense this year, after the intensity and upheaval of the past 20 months.

To protect your emotional energy and keep your battery charged so you can enjoy social and family time during the holidays, most of us need breaks for alone time. Lions, Wolves, and Dolphins all need this solo recharge time, especially when traveling to stay with others and/or hosting guests in our home. If you’re a Bear, you’re more likely than other chronotypes to be energized by long, interrupted stretches of socializing with others. (Bears—if you’re not energized by nonstop socializing, give yourself some regular solo time to balance things out.)

If you’re traveling and staying with family, try to take a few hours for yourself every day, or consider staying at a hotel or Airbnb to give yourself the space you need to enjoy family time with less stress. At home, whether you’re hosting guests or making the rounds to holiday gatherings, prioritize regular solo downtime.

Remember, too, that we can learn to do things differently than we have in the past. Heading back into the holidays, we have a fresh opportunity to approach this season with new perspective. Set an Energy Agenda for yourself, to focus on spending time with people who fill you with energy, who make you laugh and feel joyful, people who inspire a sense of connection, who share of themselves and take an interest in you.

And when you’re with people who drain your energy, who don’t respect your boundaries, who don’t make you feel seen and understood? Minimize these your exposure to them as best you can. Practice empathy and compassion in your interactions, and keep things as simple and short as possible.

Finally, be kind to yourself in all areas of your life this season. The strategies I’ve given you here are tools to help you navigate a notoriously busy time of year—not benchmarks for you to stress about living up to perfectly and without modification. Being gentle and flexible with yourself will go a long way toward helping you preserve your energy and take full enjoyment of your holidays.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™

www.thesleepdoctor.com

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!

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