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Holidays, Health, and Sleep

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Thanksgiving heralds the beginning of the holiday season in the United States. Until January 2nd, we enjoy the company of family, friends, and community. We dive deep into the reciprocity of giving and receiving, and celebration.

It's often a joy-filled time that has its downside: By getting off health-supportive routines such as sleep, and indulging in a bit too much sugar in the form of sweets for the kids and alcohol for the adults, the potential for getting sick is staring us down as we begin 2017.

It's no coincidence flu season comes around this time of year. And our choices just may rank with getting sick because we neglected a flu shot.

In Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival , T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby say:


Sleep is the biggest immunological defense scheme we've come up with yet, because not only does it defend us against other organisms in our environment, it defends us against starvation by the insulin-melatonin system. Insulin is produced only when your body senses sugar or stress.

With the festivities that accompany the holiday season, there are two main stressors that effect our health. The first is sleep schedule, the second sugar.

Maintaining routines like sleep that support health and happiness can be a challenge during the holiday season but it's not impossible. We can still enjoy the company of family, friends, and community and not get too off track.

By the time people settle down with families or have a circle of older and wiser friends, most holiday parties are scheduled in the early evening or as day-time open houses.

The trick is in transitioning from party mode to peaceful home mode.

Tip one:
When you get home after a party, change your clothes right away. It sets the tone that you're not being "up" and socializing. It also helps with the laundry load or dry cleaning bills.

Tip two:

Create a personal or family ritual that centers you in your home. It could be a cup of tea, candle lighting, settling down with a book - just an activity that you can only do at home. If it's after 6:30 pm, try fewer or dimmer lights.

Tip three:
Go over the highs and possible lows of the party you attended with your children. This sets it up as an event separate from the natural rhythm in the house. I can remember so many times when it was assumed that a party was fun for everyone in the family. But we have different temperaments. Make space to honor the introverts as well as the extroverts in the family.

Tip four:
Make your party choices personal choices. Banish the "oughts". Be ready to say "no" for the sake of both your and your children's health. I remember moving to a new town and participating in a holiday cookie swap. I did this for 4 somewhat miserable years before I learned to say "no". I'm someone who naturally feels good with a meal that starts out with olive oil and garlic, and don't do well with the precision required of baking. As Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting writes, nurturing yourself is primary.

If your family does get off its schedule, get back on it as soon as possible - particularly if you have children.

Studies indicate that sleep deprivation affects children's brains differently than adults with serious negative long-term effects.

Maintaining a consistent, healthy routine in your family is going to keep everyone immediately happy.

Who wants holiday memories of cranky kids and testy parents?

The body loves rhythm and predictability. In fact, most sleepiness happens because we are very bad at sticking to regular bedtimes - going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. And holidays are just an exaggerated version of this when schedules go out of the window - often for several weeks.

When I was little, I spent New Year's Eve with my aunt and uncle. They were Fun with a capital F. I still remember those glorious New Year's Eve celebrations. My uncle would bring fireworks up from South Carolina. We'd have pizza and play board games together - give up the TV for that one night.

They kept the suspense and tension up about the countdown to midnight. "Oh, it's soon! We've got two hours to go. Let's light just one Roman Candle. We can light some more in an hour." We'd choose some other fireworks to light at "eleven o'clock." Then at "midnight" we'd watch my uncle light off all the fireworks while my brother and I beat on pots and pans with a wooden spoon while screaming "Happy New Year!" repeatedly and loudly. Then off to bed.

I always wondered why my brother and I woke up fairly early on January 1st, feeling happy and ready to go out and play.

It turns out, my aunt and uncle had lied. They'd hidden all the clocks, and what we thought was midnight was actually around 10 PM. Still late for a 6- or 7-year-old. And still a unique family ritual that I remember with great love.

Your family's wellbeing cannot afford to throw the routines out the window for the 4 to 6 weeks of holiday celebrations.

The Bedtime Blueprint can help get the family back on track. It's a tool that helps you plan for sleep and might keep you out of the doctor's office. It has everything you need to know about sleep in one place. Get it by filling out the form below.