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Give Yourself the Gift of Sleep

December 18, 2012

Don't Let Holiday Stress Rob You of the Rest You Need

You might want to move that last item closer to the top of the list, according to Dr. Nitun Verma, a specialist in sleep medicine and medical director of Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders.

"The holidays are a stressful time for many of us, and that can affect the quality of your sleep," he explains. "It's a vicious circle, too, because the lack of sleep can add to your level of stress. The problem may be compounded by the fact that this time of year, it gets dark earlier in the evening and stays dark later in the morning, which can disrupt your sleep patterns, too."

Difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep are typical symptoms of a common sleep disorder known as insomnia. People with insomnia also may experience low energy levels, daytime drowsiness and problems with memory, concentration and attentiveness. Short term insomnia may be caused by stress or anxiety, jet lag, or another temporary disruption in your life. Chronic insomnia that lasts for a month or longer might be caused by more serious medical, physical or psychological conditions.

Overcoming short term, stress-related insomnia during the holidays may entail simply making a few lifestyle changes and modifying your sleep habits.

"First of all, try to stick to the same sleep routine as much as possible, going to bed and waking up at about the same time each day," Dr. Verma advises. "Holiday parties and other activities may make that more difficult, of course, but your body will thank you with more energy to enjoy the holidays."

Dr. Verma also suggests exercising restraint when it comes to indulging in foods and beverages during the holidays and throughout the year.

"Eating a lot of sugary, spicy or heavy foods may cause heartburn that makes it hard to sleep," he says. "Drinking caffeinate beverages or eating chocolate, which also contains caffeine should be limited before bedtime so it doesn't keep you awake. Your body works to get rid of half your caffeine consumption every six hours. So if you drink coffee at noon, you will still have half of the caffeine left in your body at six o'clock, and a quarter of the caffeine will still be there at midnight.

"Alcoholic beverages also are more commonly consumed during the holidays," he adds. "Initially, alcohol may make you feel more relaxed and make it easier to go to sleep faster, but as it wears off, it results in a lower quality sleep and, of course, that potential hangover. If you do indulge, it's best to avoid alcohol for at least four hours before bedtime."

For people who are traveling over the holidays especially on long flights Dr. Verma has a few tips for getting some shut eye.

"Sleeping on an airplane is never easy," he admits. "Getting a first class seat that fully reclines always helps, but of course that's not always economically feasible. In economy class, you'll have the fewest disruptions with a window seat. (The center seat is disastrous.) Be prepared with your own earplugs and eye mask to limit distractions. Mild sleeping-aid medications might be useful, but only for flights lasting longer than five hours. You don't want to be driving your rental car while still under the influence of sleep medication."

Getting kids to sleep when they're excitedly anticipating holiday events is no easy trick, either.

"Again, it's important to stick with a normal routine as much as possible, with regular bedtime hours," Dr. Verma says. "Establish a calming environment during the evening with soothing options such as reading and quiet games, rather than rough and tumble play or action packed movies."

Additional suggestions from Dr. Verma for avoiding nighttime sleeplessness during the holidays, and year round, include:

Avoid taking long naps during the day, limiting your naps to 30 to 45 minutes so you can sleep well at night.

Reserve your bed for sleeping. Avoid working on your computer or watching TV.

Block out distracting noises, and eliminate as much light as possible, dimming all the lights on your computers, TVs, tablets and smart phones.

If your sleepless nights extend beyond a few days or weeks, you may need to consult a specialist in sleep disorders. In addition to treating long-term insomnia, the Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders can help people with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, sleepwalking and sleep disruptions related to menopause.

For more information, visit http://washingtonsleep.com or call 510-744-6726.