Chuck, with increased Christmas social parties, my kids’ holiday events, gift shopping and added family stress, I think I get less sleep in December than I do in any month. And I have a newborn, to boot! Any nondrug advice you can offer me to catch a few more z’s so I can stay sane this holiday season? – “Sleepless in Sydney”
Lisa Whitmore, beauty editor at Redbook, recently published a great article about sleep tips highlighted in Yahoo Shine. It was written for women, but the information applies for all who suffer from holiday insomnia. I don’t know whether Santa Claus uses these techniques, but I’m sure he and Mrs. Claus would agree with this expert advice, too.
Try as often as possible to keep the same bedtimes and nightly hours of sleep.
Consistency is a huge contributor to your health, and it’s particularly true of sleep patterns. Michael Breus, who is a clinical psychologist specializing in sleep and a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says the average person needs 7 1/2 hours of sleep, or five 90-minute sleep cycles.
“But,” he adds, “it’s individual. For instance, I’ve been sleeping fine on 6 1/2 or 7 hours my whole life. The best way to figure out how much sleep you need is to calculate 7 1/2 hours before you have to get up; that’s your bedtime. If you wake up feeling great, you need 7 1/2 hours. If not, adjust your bedtime gradually till you hit the magic number.”
If it helps you sleep, do it!
Allison Siebern, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, says: “Friends always ask me if things like chamomile tea, warm milk and ‘sleep fabrics’ are proven effective. The truth is there’s not enough research to support most of the over-the-counter aids, home remedies or the so-called sleep-enhancing sheets that are supposed to get you to snooze better. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them. If something turns off your mind or helps you ease into a bedtime mindset, there’s no harm in using it. The key is to not become so tied to them that you feel frustration if, one night, they suddenly don’t ‘work’ anymore.”
If you have to nap, limit it to no more than 20 minutes.
The power of a brief snooze or siesta continues to hold merit for health. Not disrupting the 90-minute sleep cycle is key, which is what many do and why they feel groggy when they get up.
Addressing a sleepless mother who set her alarm in the afternoons for 60-minute naps, W. Christopher Winter, M.D., spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, recommended to her that if she needed “quick energy, stick to a 20-minute nap.” But if she was “trying to catch up a little after a particularly sleep-deprived night with the baby, a 90-minute nap” was better. It would get her through an entire sleep cycle, and she’d wake refreshed.
Turn down the artificial lights around you as the night progresses – all of which affect your circadian rhythm.
As Chris Kresser, licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine, notes, research has proved that “nighttime light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, the major hormone secreted by the pineal gland that controls sleep and wake cycles.”
Even a full moon can diminish our sleep and our melatonin levels. Dr. Rubin Naiman, clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, explains: “Our levels of melatonin go down, and it actually takes us longer to fall asleep and our overall sleep time is shortened. Researchers believe this is because our bodies still sync up with the geophysical rhythms of the moon, called our circalunar clock. I experience this myself. I’m often up in the middle of the night for two hours on a full moon.”
Try a little seasonal therapy.
The holiday season can be one of the most stressful for a host of reasons. So why not get a little professional help from a counselor? Consider him or her your “holiday coach” for five or six weeks. The money spent can be your best Christmas gift!
Stanford’s Siebern recommends: “One sleep helper that not a lot of people talk about is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. My friends are always surprised when I suggest it. It’s a super-short-term therapy method – usually your issues go away after four to six sessions – that helps you learn how your sleep system actually works so you can do something to fix your troubles. It cuts out the anxiety and frustration surrounding sleep, and many of my friends find that once they just give it a try, they’re convinced.”
Try to increase your seasonal melatonin levels.
If you know me, you know I’m a big believer in approaching life and health from the most natural vantage point possible. I first encourage eating foods that increase melatonin naturally.
A high-starch, high-tryptophan and serotonin-producing snack an hour before bedtime also might be a remedy for your sleeplessness. Carbohydrates (particularly complex ones) make the brain produce more serotonin – one of the most important brain chemicals for regulating good sleep patterns, as it converts to melatonin, too. Foods with ample complex carbohydrates include potatoes, corn, rice, legumes, breads, pastas and cereals.
Another way to boost serotonin levels is to eat foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, which include pumpkin seeds, eggs, turkey, chicken, milk and salmon. Tryptophan also can be found in smaller amounts in peas and other legumes.
If those edibles don’t do the trick, try a low dosage of melatonin, which is sold among herbs over the counter. Helene Emsellem, M.D., clinical professor of neurology at George Washington University Medical Center, explains that melatonin “can help a night owl who’s usually up until 2 a.m. change her cycle so she dozes off by midnight. … For the occasional bout of insomnia … you need to take higher doses of melatonin, such as 3 milligrams, closer to bedtime to help transition into sleep.”
Let me conclude by adapting a few of the lyrics from the Christmas classic “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”: “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been stressed and sleepless. So get some rest, for goodness’ sake!”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.