May visions of sugar plums…
How to reduce stress and achieve the bliss of sweet slumber during the hectic holiday season
BY LISSA COFFEY
Editor’s note: Savvy mattress retailers want to do everything they can to help their customers sleep better, including offering them sound advice and tips. Feel free to share this great guidance from Better Sleep Council spokeswoman Lissa Coffey with your shoppers (with credit given, of course). The BSC is the consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
“Family Feud” is a popular TV game show that asks teams of families to match the top answers to public-opinion polls on all kinds of topics. During one episode, one of the questions was “On a scale of one to 10, how stressful is Christmas?” One hundred people were surveyed and the No. 1 answer was “10!”
While the idea of a relaxing holiday season filled with merriment is appealing, the reality is that most of us are stressed out just thinking of all the extra work, travel, expense and sometimes family discord involved. The “most wonderful time of the year,” in reality, often is the most stressful time of the year. We know that stress interferes with sleep—and that a lack of sleep can cause us to feel more stressed. It’s quite the dilemma.
To come up with sleep solutions for the holidays, let’s start by looking at some of the causes of our stress and then look at strategies to deal with them so we can get the sweet slumber that we crave.
Combat weather woes
In the Northern Hemisphere, the weather outside can indeed be frightful in the winter. It’s cold and dark and when we turn up the heat inside, the air in the house becomes dry, sometimes uncomfortably so. While the weather is beyond our control, there are some ways we can combat its effects and maintain healthy sleep habits.
- Spend time outside every day. You might have to bundle up, but being exposed to daylight helps keep our body clocks functioning properly. During the winter months when days are short and there is less sunshine, many people experience seasonal affective disorder. SAD can cause us to feel tired and, ironically, also make it difficult to sleep. Getting enough daylight and enough vitamin D helps lift moods, even if you suffer only from the “winter blahs.”
- Run a humidifier. Adding moisture back into your home’s interior will help you breathe easier and sleep better. If you don’t have a humidifier, a slow cooker filled with water works well, too. Just keep it plugged in on low. You can even drop in spices or fruit slices to create aromatherapy. It’s traditional during the holidays to make ornaments out of fresh oranges and cloves: Try adding those to the water. You’ll get needed humidity and a refreshing holiday fragrance throughout the house in no time.
Shopping—often a relaxing pastime during the year—can be challenging during the holidays: You’re in a hurry, parking lots are full and lines can be long. On top of that, we worry about our budgets and don’t want to forget anyone on our list. What’s the best way to handle this shopping-intensive time of year?
- Shop all year long. When you see something that would make a great gift for someone, buy it and stash it away. I have a cupboard exactly for this purpose. Come holiday time, I take inventory and there’s usually not much left on my shopping list. It might be a little late to put this strategy into practice this year, but you can get a head start on 2017 holiday shopping after New Year’s. Start in January, like I do, stocking up on holiday giftwrap and cards that are marked down drastically.
- Have a plan. Instead of going out (or going online) looking for “something”—anything—have a specific item in mind for each person on your list before you start shopping. This will save you valuable time and reduce your stress level.
- Buy online. Online shopping allows you to research products and compare prices—and not waste time and energy going from store to store to store. Many e-tailers, including local retailers that also sell their products online, offer free delivery with a minimum order or allow you to pick items up at a physical store near you at your convenience.
- Give the gift of sleep. This is a great way to satisfy everyone on your shopping list. What do you get someone who has everything? How about a fluffy pillow or a set of bed linens? How long have grandma and grandpa been sleeping on their mattress? That’s a gift they will use—and enjoy every single night. With the mattress options available, you can buy one best suited to their current needs. Or how about matching pajamas for the whole family? Imagine the photos you can post on Facebook and Instagram!
Sometimes getting in the kitchen and cooking or baking is a great way to relieve stress. But when you’re already under pressure trying to get a lot of things done, the fun flies out the window. What to do?
- Manage your expectations. Not all of us are Martha Stewart—and we don’t need to be. Do what you enjoy during the season and leave the rest to someone else. If your friend loves baking, but can’t stand decorating the Christmas tree, swap chores. Ask her to make an extra batch of sugar cookies for you while she’s making hers and you can help her put up the tree. Or you can stop at a bakery on the way home from work and pick up whatever you need: no mess; no stress!
- Enjoy the benefits of cinnamon. Cinnamon is one of the signature tastes and smells of the season. It can even help you sleep better because it works to balance out blood sugar levels. Bananas and cinnamon make a yummy, combo, and bananas are filled with potassium and magnesium, great for promoting sleep because they soothe the nervous system and relax the muscles. Banana peels have even more of the good stuff! I found an easy recipe for a perfect after-dinner, before-bed banana cinnamon tea. Try it!
Banana Cinnamon Tea
Wash thoroughly one banana, peel intact. Cut the ends off the fruit and chop it in half, if needed, so that the banana fits in a small saucepan. Fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil. Place the banana in the saucepan, along with a pinch of cinnamon. (Use one banana and about 2 cups of water per person.) Cook the mixture on a low boil for about 10 minutes. Then pour the tea into cups and enjoy!
(Don’t let the boiled banana go to waste. Let it cool and you can eat it, skin and all, as a snack or low-calorie dessert. You’ll be surprised how tasty it is.)
Many people invite company over during the holidays, meaning there’s more pressure to decorate and keep the house tidy. Adding to the stress, we might see relatives we haven’t seen in a long time and it’s easy to fall into old habits and disagreements. Who can sleep after another round of arguments with your aunt—especially if you’ve been up late the night before cleaning a messy house? If you’re going to be a holiday host, keep these things in mind:
- Simple is perfect. Now is not the time to try a complicated new recipe or deck the halls with delicate ornaments. Ask guests to pitch in and lower your own standards. The idea is to get together with people you love. Simply providing the setting for that is a wonderful gift.
- Keep alcoholic drinks to a minimum. Alcohol accentuates and amplifies behavior. So, if there is bad behavior coming out, alcohol will make it worse. Alcohol also disrupts sleep: You want your guests to wake up the next morning well-rested, with fond memories of your event.
- Lighten up with laughter. Last Christmas Eve, my whole family howled with laughter as we played an impromptu game of Cards Against Humanity. Your family might enjoy charades or bingo. The idea is to do something fun together. Another idea: Put on a holiday comedy like “Elf” or “A Christmas Story.” Toss hot popcorn in a bowl, first with a little butter (or vegan alternative) and then with a blend of powdered sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Serve it in individual paper bags and you’ve got a fancy family movie night. Now there’s a holiday tradition you’ll want to continue.
Inspired by any of these ideas? Post pictures on Facebook and tag the Better Sleep Council. We would love to see your holiday stress-busting, sleep-friendly strategies in action!
Lissa Coffey is a relationship expert, author and broadcast journalist. She writes for eight websites, including CoffeyTalk.com, WhatsYourDosha.com and the Better Sleep Council’s site, BetterSleep.org. A BSC spokeswoman, she stars in several videos that offer sleep and mattress-shopping tips for consumers.