Don't Dread the Holiday Visit to Your Family: Give Yourself the Gift of Sleep

Instead of seven swans a-swimming or eight maids a-milking, wouldn't you just be happy to have seven to eight hours of sleep a night while visiting family or friends this holiday season?
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Instead of seven swans a-swimming or eight maids a-milking, wouldn't you just be happy to have seven to eight hours of sleep a night while visiting family or friends this holiday season? Great food, presents, catching up with family -- what could be better than sleeping in your childhood bedroom or in a guest room?

Well -- once you factor in the old mattress, paper-thin walls, family night owls who watch TV and party until 3 a.m., crying babies, early risers, pets who want to share your bed, and sharing a bathroom with eight people, almost anything seems better than sharing your sleeping space with all the new family additions.

How do you get out of staying with your parents or friends without hurting their feelings? Blame it on sleep! If you are facing another year of poor sleep during the holidays because the conditions are less than ideal, check the travel sites now and book yourself in a nice, quiet hotel nearby.

Sleep is an important component of your health. While there is no magic number when it comes to sleep, most experts believe healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. The consequences of even a few nights of sleep deprivation can be severe.

If it is impossible to stay at a hotel over the holidays, plan ahead for the most common sleep disturbances.

Change in Normal Sleep Pattern

  • Jetlag. If you are traveling into a different time zone, you may be accustomed to going to bed earlier or getting up later than the majority of your family. If your schedule allows for a few changes before you head home, try slowly adjusting your sleep schedule to your destination's local time. Once you arrive, try to get out into the sunlight as much as possible. Daylight is a powerful cure for resetting the biological sleep/wake clock.

  • Different sleep schedules. Your mom wakes up at 6 a.m. to cook breakfast, your dad likes to mow the lawn at 6:30, your kid cousins like to watch cartoons with the volume on full blast -- good luck trying to sleep in. Whenever possible, take a short nap to improve alertness and bring along an eye mask to block out light. A 20- to 30-minute nap will revive you without hindering your sleep at night.
  • Overindulging. Helping yourself to seconds or thirds at the holiday table? Going out with high school friends for an all-nighter? Your diet, alcohol, and nicotine habits can affect your sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, and some believe that alcohol may have stimulant properties, too. While a few beers might help you get to sleep, it disrupts sleep as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol. A full stomach might lead to a restless night's sleep as well. As always with holiday indulgences, practice moderation.
  • Pets

    • Cuddle buddies. We all know the enormous health benefits pets provide, but they are not the best bed companions. A purring kitten or bed-hogging dog can ruin your sleep, so be sure to keep the animals on the floor or outside your door.

  • Allergies. Even if the pet is not in your bedroom, it can still affect your sleep. The empty guest bedroom may be an ideal resting place for the family cat... until you come home to find bed sheets covered in pet dander. Sleeping in a pile of cat or dog hair will only lead to itchy eyes and runny nose. If you have allergies, be sure to ask your parents to close off the guest room or wash the sheets before your visit. Also, consider bringing a pillow from home to ensure a dander-free resting place.
  • Playtime! Everyone loves a warm welcome from a pet, but it might not be so appreciated when Fido or Felix wants to play at 2 a.m. Again, both you and your pet will sleep better if you do not share a bedroom.
  • Bedroom Issues

    An uncomfortable sleeping arrangement. Bunk-beds, air mattresses, sleeping bags -- sometimes families have to get creative to accommodate all holiday guests. If you are stuck with a less-than-ideal sleeping arrangement, follow some healthy sleep tips. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine, exercise, finish eating two to three hours before bed, and avoid caffeine or nicotine. You will not feel like you are sleeping at the Ritz, but healthy sleep habits can make an uncomfortable sleeping arrangement a bit better.

    Too hot or cold in the bedroom. The battle of the thermostat might be in full force when you arrive home. Does your dad plan to "beat the system" of Christmas lights wreaking havoc on a power bill by keeping the heat at a crisp 55 degrees? Or maybe your sister insists her newborn cannot sleep if it is under 80 degrees in the home. Either way, a bedroom too hot or too cold could impact your sleep. You need a cool, quiet, dark, comfortable room to sleep well. Work with your family to establish a temperature that makes everyone most comfortable.

    Sleep disorders. Have you never noticed that your brother snores until you are under the same roof? More than 18 million American adults have sleep apnea, so your brother's snoring could be a sign of a more serious condition. For a short-term solution, buy some noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, and encourage your brother to sleep on his side rather than his back and to avoid alcohol. A family physician or sleep specialist should be consulted about any sleep disorder.

    Be a good example for your friends and family by taking sleep seriously over the holidays. There may be some hurt feelings, but protecting your sleep is worth it. If a hotel is not possible, use the tips provided to receive the best night's sleep under the circumstances. Whether you are at the St. Regis, Best Western, or Hotel Childhood Home, good luck and happy holidays!

    For more information on sleep health and sleep disorders, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

    For more by Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., click here.

    For more on sleep, click here.