How To Get Your Sleep On Track After The Holidays
Have trouble waking up this morning? You're not alone. The holidays are officially over -- and for many of us, it's back to work today.
"I think it's inevitable that we are going to have to pay the piper," says HuffPost blogger Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., sleep specialist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona's Center for Integrative Medicine. "If we're stealing time from sleep, we're going to have to pay it back."
Those seemingly requisite holiday cheer activities, such as enjoying a day off work by sleeping in, drinking alcohol at a party, traveling to see family and ringing in the New Year at midnight Sunday morning, can really alter your circadian rhythms, making it difficult to readjust to waking up for normal everyday life.
"This is a kind of stationary jet lag," Naiman explains, where you have pushed your internal body clock ahead one, two or even three hours. "We're actually abruptly shifting to another time zone."
And so the interventions aren't unlike those you'd use to adjust to flying from California back to New York -- Naiman says the key is to use light or light substitutes in the morning and darkness or darkness substitutes in the evening to realign your body clock.
Soak up some bright light outside when you first wake up, suggests HuffPost blogger Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., CEO of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation -- even better if you can combine some outdoor exercise. If going outside isn't possible, spend some time in front of an artificial light box. "That will help reset your clock, your circadian rhythms," he says.
During the day, reserve caffeinated beverages for the morning, and avoid them in the late afternoon and evening. "You don't want to start a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep," Rosenberg explains. And, if you work in a place where it's acceptable to grab a quick catnap, go for it (unless you suffer from insomnia, which can only make the problem worse).
At night, Rosenberg says not to worry if you can't snap back into an earlier bedtime right away. "What's really important is to set a regular wakeup time," he explains. "The bedtime will eventually reset itself." If you can't sleep after a few minutes, get up out of bed and do a non-stressful, non-work related activity. "Don't spend hours in bed wondering when sleep is going to happen. It perpetuates insomnia because you're over thinking it."
Rosenberg says your internal body clock should re-sync itself in a few days (if you have problems beyond that, you may want to speak with a doctor).
And Naiman underscores the importance of letting the readjustment happen slowly and naturally -- a "quick fix" of increased caffeine consumption during the day and alcohol and sleeping pills at night should not be the answer. "That can take a challenging situation and make it worse," he says. Instead, he recommends having faith in your body, and taking a small dose of melatonin between 15 and 30 minutes before you go to bed, if it helps.
"One of the things that I think is really important is to remember that the body and the brain are exquisitely resilient," he says. "We're built to take these kind of changes."