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  • Writer's pictureJiwon You

Reclaiming Your Sleep Routine: Tips for a Restful Post-Holiday Reset

Catching up on sleep

The holiday season is often a joyous time for connection, excitement, and being unburdened by the usual responsibilities of daily life. It also means staying up late with social gatherings, sleeping in with no worries of the alarm going off, and staying in bed a lot, safe from the cold, with warm cocoa in hand. While such relaxation and festivities are great fun (and well-deserved!), this disruption of daily routine can lead to a common side effect: sleep disturbance. 

After the holidays, you may experience difficulty falling asleep, sleeping throughout the night, or waking up feeling rested. Such disturbances can lead to irritation, low mood, or difficulty concentrating during the day. While some of these changes and difficulties are quite common during the winter months due to late sunrises, shorter days, and longer nights affecting your natural sleep-wake cycle (i.e. the circadian rhythm), the unstructuredness of the holidays can exacerbate this problem. You may spend a longer time in bed even if you are not sleeping in it or take more naps to compensate for staying up late with your friends the night before, all of which affect your sleep quality. Here are some ways to help reset your sleep routine and get you back to waking up feeling refreshed:

Go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day (yes, even on weekends)

Having inconsistent sleep and wake time not only disrupts the routine of the day but your circadian rhythm as well. The result is that your body may get confused about when to release melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone), disturbing your sleep further and making you more tired throughout the day. Having a consistent schedule allows your body to reset its internal clock and help you wake up feeling refreshed.

Young man sleeping with their dog

Use the bed only for sleeping, and limit the amount of time you spend in bed not sleeping

If you work, play, or do any activities other than sleeping in your bed, your brain may start associating it with wake-time activities, instead of sleep. Similarly, if you spend a lot of time in your bed before sleep thinking or worrying, your body becomes conditioned to worry in bed and becomes more wakeful. Using your bed only for sleeping, and getting out of it when not, can associate bed with sleep and can condition you to feel sleepy when you get in bed, instead of checking emails or worrying about the next day.

If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes, check in with yourself and engage in something else

If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes, check to see how you are feeling - are you feeling anxious and fidgety? Or perhaps you are feeling calm, but simply do not feel sleepy. After you check in with your state, instead of laying in bed for longer, which can create frustration or anxiety, get out of bed to meet whatever needs you have at the moment. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, try to engage in relaxation techniques, such as deep, paced breathing, guided meditation, focusing on present physical sensations (i.e. mindfulness), or giving yourself soothing, reassuring words. If you notice that you are feeling calm, but simply not sleepy, leave the bed and engage in a calming activity, such as reading a boring book, having a very light snack (e.g. a warm glass of milk), or listening to some calming music. Try not to check your phone, computer, or TV, as they can stimulate your brain and wake you up more.

Mother sleeping with baby

Create a sleep-friendly environment

Having an environment conducive to sleep is important. Make sure that your bedroom is dark, has no distracting or stimulating noises (repetitive and soothing “white noises” could be helpful, depending on the person), and keep the room cool, instead of warm. Try to keep electronic devices away from the bed, as the blue light emitted from the devices can block the release of melatonin (we also all know the temptation to check our emails when you have your phone near your bed!).

Be mindful of your habits and activities during the day

What you do during the day can affect how your sleep will look at night. Getting enough sunlight and engaging in light to moderate physical activity during the day can help prepare your body to naturally feel tired at night. Make sure to not engage in intense exercise in the late evening, however, as that can activate your body and wake you up. Reducing caffeine intake (coffee, tea, etc.) and limiting them to morning - early afternoons, as well as not taking naps during the day, are also important in regulating your sleep.

Relaxing before bed

Practice relaxation exercises before bed

Relaxation exercises are simple ways to engage our parasympathetic nervous system - the system responsible for the “rest and digest” state of our body - and calm us down, which can help with sleep. While there are many techniques out there, these two may get you started. Try to engage in them right before or while in bed, when you are in a comfortable position:

  1. 4-7-8 Breathing: This simple breathing technique starts with sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Exhale all the breath you currently have through your mouth, as if you are a balloon that is deflating. Next, breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out through your mouth slowly for 8 seconds. Repeat this cycle 4 times.

  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): We tend to unknowingly hold tension in our muscles when we are worrying, feeling anxious, or even as a simple habit. PMR involves intentionally tensing and releasing each muscle group in our body to induce a state of relaxation throughout the body. First, sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Next, direct your attention to the first target muscle group - this will usually be the top part of your body, such as the forehead - and with a slow inhale, tense, or squeeze for about 5-10 seconds. Then, release the tension completely with an exhale. Feel the relaxed state of the muscle for a few moments, then move on to the next muscle group. Imagine that you are traveling down your body from the top - starting from your forehead, face, neck and shoulders, arms, chest, stomach, legs, and feet. Make sure to not tense the muscles to the point of pain. It may be helpful to follow an audio or video guide for the practice as well.

Let go of the pressure to sleep

We’ve all done it before - laying on our bed on a sleepless night, watching the clock ticking by and thinking, ‘If I want to get at least 7 hours of sleep, I should sleep now… Oh, but now I’ll only get 6 and a half hours of sleep… Well if I sleep now I’ll at least get that much… Oh no, now I’ll only get 6 hours!’ Such pressure can gear your body towards more activation in your nervous system and make it harder for you to fall asleep. Trying to force sleep can also simply make you more awake and aware that you are not sleeping, just like when you are asked not to think of a polar bear, you naturally think of a polar bear. Instead, take a few deep breaths, and try to let go of the pressure to sleep. It is okay that you cannot sleep sometimes. Give yourself and your body grace and acceptance, and you may find yourself starting to feel lighter and relaxed. 

There are, of course, many other ways and strategies to help with your sleep and reset your sleep schedule. Some of the strategies may work for you, and some may not. The strategies listed here are only a few suggestions to help get you started on resetting your sleep, and we encourage you to explore and try out different strategies. Good night, and have yourself a restful sleep!

Jiwon You is a psychologist specializing in working with adults in trauma therapy and self-esteem therapy. She is passionate about helping people heal from trauma and self-criticism so they can feel better and live more fulfilling lives. Jiwon provides affirming online therapy in Calgary and across Alberta for all folks 18+ and can provide services in Korean and English.


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