Are you preparing for a week of total relaxation? Here’s why making a dent in your couch might be really good for your health.
December is notoriously one of the busiest months of the year, with work parties, reunions with old friends and festive outings filling up our calendars. That’s why the period between 25 December and the new year, known as twixmas, when the only thing on most of our to-do lists is to make a leftovers sandwich and get through every single Harry Potter film, is so blissful.
Lunchtime naps become the norm and it’s suddenly socially acceptable to go to bed at 9pm. But are sub 1,000-step days and 12-hour sleeps hindering your health? According to sleep expert Penny Albright, catching up on sleep over Christmas might actually be good for you.
“Sleep is a restorative activity and while you’re asleep, you’re effectively healing your body,” she explains – and some of us might be in need of some bodily healing come the new year, especially after one too many Christmas party shenanigans.
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Why do you feel more tired at Christmas?
There are a number of reasons you might be feeling more tired than usual during the festive period. For a start, a lot of people sleep more in winter anyway, according to a 2020 US study. Plus, Christmas falls on some of the shortest days of the year in the UK, meaning most of us aren’t getting enough vitamin D, which can disrupt our circadian rhythms and increase lethargy.
If you’re taking time off over Christmas, you might also feel more tired than usual because you’ve given your body permission to relax. “Once the body stops the hectic run-around, it quickly becomes accustomed to a more relaxed state of being, which means you can switch off easier,” Albright says.
Can you really catch up on sleep?
If you’ve been having lots of late nights and early mornings during December, maybe you’re hoping to catch up on all the sleep you’ve lost during twixmas. But is this really possible?
There’s little science to show that you can really catch up on sleep hour by hour, so switching to 56 hours per week instead of eight hours per night is almost definitely a bad idea. But there’s no harm in sleeping more over Christmas if you’ve had a busy few weeks and are feeling run down. “As long as it’s within a two-week window, you should benefit from ‘catching up on sleep’,” Albright says.
This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to force yourself to sleep, but if you are feeling tired, there’s no harm in letting yourself catch some extra Zs. After all, sleep is seriously beneficial for our health. “While you’re sleeping, your body releases small proteins called cytokines, which help the body fight against pain, inflammation and even stress,” explains Albright.
Studies have linked sleep to so many health benefits, from improving your immune system to boosting your mental function. So if your family make a joke about you getting out of bed after 11am, tell them you’re simply trying to look after your health.
How to stay healthy while relaxing over Christmas
All of this does come with a caveat though because while getting in that extra sleep has its benefits, it’s important to try to maintain healthy habits too, including over the Christmas period and into the new year.
“Turn your phone off two hours before you plan on dozing off to sleep and make sure that if you’re planning on activities that include alcohol, that you have your last sip four hours before you plan on sleeping,” Albright recommends, so scrolling through the Boxing Day sales with a glass of prosecco in your hand before bed might not be the best idea.
She also suggests avoiding napping too regularly, as this can lead to sleep inertia. “Sleep inertia is effectively that horrible groggy feeling you get once awoken from a nap,” Albright says. The odd nap shouldn’t cause this but napping regularly can make you more prone to it, and this could go on to disrupt your sleep schedule.
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Speaking of a sleep schedule – and if your December has been as busy as ours, you might be wondering what that even means at this point – Albright also recommends getting up in the morning for a walk to expose yourself to daylight and soak up vitamin D, even if you plan on spending the rest of the day lazing around. This will help to regulate your circadian rhythm, so getting up for work come January isn’t a total nightmare.
Basically, enjoy the Christmas period for what it is and get as much relaxation time in as you can, but try to remember what makes you feel good usually, whether that’s daily movement or getting into nature, and incorporate that into your festive routine too.
For more health tips and expert insights, head to the Strong Women Instagram page.
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