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Sleep Hygiene as an Antidote to Holiday Stress

December 15, 2020

Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC, discusses how sleep hygiene can help in the management of holiday-related stress and shares practices for good sleep hygiene.

Dr. Jain is a member of the Psych Congress Steering Committee, a psychotherapist in private practice, and Adjunct Clinical Affiliate at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing.

Read the transcript:

Hi, everyone. My name is Dr. Saundra Jain. I'm a member of the Psych Congress Steering Committee and our Psych Congress family. Today, we're going to be talking about the importance of sleep and how we can use sleep hygiene practices when confronted with holiday stress.

Honestly, the holidays often lead to an increase in stress for many of us. COVID‑19 has only added to our stress levels and in so many different ways. For one thing, to protect ourselves and others, we are changing our holiday get‑togethers.

This is definitely a difficult time, not only for our patients, but also for us as providers. It's quite possible that this increased level of stress may be negatively impacting our sleep. Here are a couple of ways that this may be happening.

First, what if you're worried about getting together with family and friends during the holidays because of COVID‑19 concerns? You find yourself waking up during the night, worrying about what to do. You end up struggling to fall back to sleep. Then, you wake up the next morning simply exhausted.

Two, maybe you've decided to spend the holidays at home with those that live together in the same house to avoid the risk of COVID‑19. Even though you're steadfast on your decision not to get together with friends and family, you may find yourself worrying a lot about how others may react to your decision.

You may keep questioning your decision, struggling with it, and asking yourself, "What's the right thing to do?" Remember, this internal dialogue usually happens right at bedtime. You may find yourself watching the clock and struggling to fall asleep.

Just like in our previous example, you wake up the next morning simply exhausted. You may have a long‑standing history of sleep‑related problems. These holiday and COVID‑19 worries may make the problem much worse.

Now let's talk about why sleep matters. Then we can talk about some effective sleep hygiene practices. You may be asking, "Why should we even care about sleep?" Of course we want to be rested and have energy during the day rather than being exhausted, irritable, and running on empty, but sleep matters in other ways too.

Data tells us that poor sleep is associated with increased levels of inflammation, pain, mood difficulties, cognitive decline, and an overall worsening of outcomes. What can we do? There are sleep studies. There are sleep medications. Those are all possible ways to better sleep.

What else can we do to improve our sleep? We've been researching wellness for more than a decade. We've learned that sleep hygiene practices are an effective way to improve sleep. Let's talk about how we did this and what we learned.

First, this is what we did. As part of our 30‑day wellness program, WILD 5 Wellness, we asked participants to implement 4 of the 6 WILD 5 Wellness sleep hygiene practices on a daily basis during the 30‑day program.

Second, this is what we learned, that the use of sleep hygiene practices, across many studies, resulted in remarkable improvements in sleep. Making use of these sleep hygiene practices really produced positive results in just 30 days of practice.

I want to share our 6 sleep hygiene practices just in case you want to give them a try. First, due to the light they emit, avoid all electronic devices like televisions, smartphones, online games, tablets, computers, e‑readers. Do this 90 minutes prior to bedtime.

Two, avoid napping during the day. No matter how tired you are, resist that temptation of a quick nap as this only results in poor nighttime sleep. Three, eliminate ambient light in your bedroom. You can try blackout shades and/or a night mask to block out the light.

Four, enjoy a warm relaxing bath or shower prior to bedtime. Five, establish and stick to a regular bedtime each night, including weekends. Finally, six, avoid caffeinated drinks 10 hours before bedtime.

Remember, you only have to implement 4 of the 6 sleep hygiene practices. This gives you a little bit of wiggle room for those practices that seem too daunting. Don't avoid those, but put 4 into practice on a daily basis. Then just try the others. See how it goes, even the ones that are difficult or challenging.

Let's not allow the stress of COVID‑19 or holiday stress, honestly, for that matter, any stress, cheat us out of a good night's sleep. Restorative sleep will go a long way in keeping us healthy during these difficult and trying times.

I invite all of you to try these sleep hygiene practices if you're struggling with sleep, no matter what the cause. Do your very best to integrate these sleep hygiene practices into your daily routine, knowing that you'll be taking very good care of yourself.

I do understand these are tough times for all of us. We must do everything we can to take care of our minds and our bodies. Sleep, it's a really great way to do just that. Let me end with a wonderful quote from the Dalai Lama. "Sleep is the best meditation." Be well my friends and sweet dreams.

More videos with Dr. Saundra Jain:
Embracing Social Connections in the Age of Social Distancing
Coping With Holiday Stress: Positive Emotions to the Rescue
Coping During COVID-19: The Power of Wellness
A Mindfulness Meditation

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