At a Glance
- We sleep 39 minutes, 23 seconds less over the December holidays, according to a survey by The Sleep Doctor.
- People celebrating New Year’s Eve have the steepest sleep loss, dropping 51.5 minutes that night.
- 32.9% of adults ages 21 and older say they consume more alcohol than normal over the holidays.
- 52.1% of survey respondents say they sleep less on New Year’s Eve, and parties and events were the primary reason (53%).
- Hosts of holiday parties report sleeping 53 to 83 minutes less than normal on nights of parties.
The winter holidays can drain Emily Banks’ energy, no matter how hard she tries to fight it. The 29-year-old global-public-relations manager takes at least a week off from work in December, assuming she will head into the holidays well-rested. That rest never happens.
“I always end up trying to maximize my time,” she says. “I stay up late on New Year’s Eve and pack in all these early morning ski days with my friends. I usually need a vacation from my vacation.”
From Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa until New Year’s Day, December holidays can be as taxing as they are fun. That can come at the expense of our sleep.
According to a survey of 1,035 adults that The Sleep Doctor conducted in November 2022, we lose an average of 39 minutes and 23 seconds of sleep nightly over the holidays.
Some 43% of adults recognize they are sleeping less this time of year, be it from dealing with holiday stress, having poor sleep hygiene, or waiting for Santa. That increases to 52.1% on New Year’s Eve, the most sleepless night of the bunch, with revelers sleeping 51 minutes, 30 seconds, less than normal. An even 53% say parties or events were the primary reason.
Survey respondents who observe Hanukkah report losing 37 minutes and 40 seconds of sleep during the holiday. Respondents who observe Christmas sleep 32 minutes, 35 seconds less the night before. Meanwhile, people who observe Kwanzaa report sleeping 45 minutes more each night during that holiday.
So what’s the main reason behind these sleep changes? And how can we enjoy the season while still getting the sleep we need?
Is Travel Fatigue to Blame?
Travel is always popular around the holidays, with AAA estimating 112.7 million folks trekking at least 50 miles this year, almost at 2019 levels. But it also affects our sleep, thanks to factors such as jet lag and stress.
That starts on night No. 1 for Sadie Hirshberg, a 27-year-old school reading specialist. She typically travels from Oregon to Seattle or Sun Valley, Idaho, to spend Hanukkah and Christmas with family. That travel throws off her standard sleep routine, compounded by the new setting.
“We usually get in the car once my fiance is done with work, and that starts us off with a late night,” she says. “We’re often sleeping in a very full house, and our dog really doesn’t like the noise, which means we all sleep poorly for at least the first few nights.”
This could be the “first night effect,” says Dr. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., of The Sleep Doctor.
“The first night you go someplace, your brain isn’t used to the noises and sounds and smells, so it’s constantly scanning your environment,” he says. “Your brain ends up with a sort of half-sleep.”
Travel requiring an overnight stay outside the home was most common among survey respondents celebrating Christmas (16.8%), compared to 13.2% of Hanukkah observers and 10.8% of people observing New Year’s. Travel-related factors such as uncomfortable sleep environments or jet lag comprised the top reason respondents who celebrate Hanukkah couldn’t sleep, at 44.4%.
More respondents celebrating Christmas, however, cited family commitments (45.1%) than any other sleep-loss factor. For New Year’s Eve, the top reason was parties or social events (53.3%). So maybe it’s not getting to the get-together as much as the get-together itself.
Eat, Drink, and Be Sleep-Deprived?
Roughly one third of respondents ages 21 and older, or 32.9%, say they drink more alcohol over the December holidays than normal.
Drinking alcohol before bedtime sometimes may help us fall asleep faster. But it can also lead to poor-quality, disrupted sleep as the night wears on.
With 63.9% of respondents saying they drink the same or more during winter holidays as normal, that adds up. Hirshberg says she encounters this when meeting up with friends or family for a beverage.
“I think that having more than one [drink] makes me sleep worse and makes my fiance sleep worse,” she says, “which makes me sleep even worse.”
Then there’s New Year’s Eve: 48.5% of respondents who sleep less on that holiday say they also increase their alcohol intake on that night.
“This is a big one I like to call the ‘double whammy,’” Dr. Breus says. “You stay up past your normal bedtime and get hammered, so you stay up even later and drink more. That just destroys your sleep.”
If it’s not the drink, then it may also be the food. Banks says her holiday meals are full of things she doesn’t normally eat, “like giant pies and dairy-filled mashed potatoes,” she says.
“But it’s a free-for-all over the holidays,” she says. “And I always end up feeling off.”
That “off” feeling can hurt our sleep, too, with overeating and eating too late at night affecting how and how long we sleep. Among survey respondents, 16.7% of people celebrating Hanukkah say they lost sleep because of their holiday food or beverage habits, with 21.3% of people celebrating Christmas saying the same.
Hosts With the Most May Pay the Price
Traveling to an event and imbibing at it may contribute to changes in sleep over the holidays for some people. But there’s a specific person involved who might experience the steepest sleep decline in that time.
Hosts of New Year’s Eve parties sleep an average of 1 hour and 23 minutes less that night, compared to normal. Hosts of Hanukkah events sleep 1 hour less. For those hosting Christmas parties, it’s an average of 53 minutes and 38 seconds less the night before.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
Dr. Breus says that hosts often take the biggest brunt when it comes to sleep loss because their sleep hygiene is the most disrupted.
“The anxiety of hosting is also a factor, especially a night or two before the party,” he says. “Hosts ask themselves, ‘Do I have all the food and do the decorations look good?’ We get jazzed up about that stuff, and literally lose sleep over it.”
Stress can be a big reason we lose sleep. And it’s not reserved for hosts only: About a third of those celebrating Hanukkah (33.3%) and Christmas (33.6%) cite stress and anxiety as a reason for their holiday sleep loss.
How do you get around that? Moderation — for everything — is the key to keeping good sleep habits, Dr. Breus says.
“Holidays are not great for our health,” he says. “They’re great for our mental health because you get community, and that’s one of the most important things for longevity.
“You can have all the community without as much party. Have a glass of champagne and enjoy yourself, but don’t go cuckoo.”
The Sleep Doctor commissioned the survey of 1,035 respondents from Nov. 17 to Nov. 22, 2022. Results are from 710 subscribers to The Sleep Doctor newsletters and 325 additional U.S. adults who were age 18 or older at the time of the survey. Responses were gathered on the Pollfish platform. All respondents attested to answering the survey questions truthfully and accurately.