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Why Sleep and Self-Care Are So Important This Holiday Season

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As the holiday season ramps up, self-care might be one of the last things on our minds. There are parties to plan, gifts to buy, homes to decorate — and don’t even get me started on the added pressures parents deal with this time of year! We’re more likely to be running ourselves ragged than focusing on taking care of ourselves this time of year.

And for many of us, odds are this is just a ramped-up version of what we’re doing throughout the rest of the year. Thanks to the “rise and grind” culture and our current love affair with side hustles, many of us are working ourselves to the bone day in and day out. Some of us even feel guilty if we aren’t being productive in some way. Somewhere along the way, being “on” all day, every day became a badge of honor — one we pay dearly for, mentally and physically.

Worse, falling victim to hustle culture isn’t an isolated issue. Around 44 percent of Americans are working a side hustle, according to CNBC, while a Deloitte survey found that 77 percent of respondents have experienced burnout at their current jobs.

Read that again: 77 percent. That accounts for the majority of the workforce, and unfortunately, the habits and expectations that cause burnout and exhaustion only seem to be getting worse. It’s even permeated pop culture — celebrities like Lady Gaga and Beyonce have talked about the effects of burnout. Beyoncé was so affected she wrote about burning out in “Break My Soul,” singing,

“damn, they work me so damn hard
Work by nine, then off past five
And they work my nerves, that’s why I cannot sleep at night.”

And this is only how our jobs affect us; those percentages don’t account for the pressure of being perfect parents, spouses, sons, daughters — whatever your lot in life is, there’s a good chance there’s some added pressure making you feel run down.

Despite the negative side effects that come from the rise and grind culture — and the pressure to be “on” even outside of the office — many of us still try to forge ahead even as fatigue and exhaustion take a toll, each of us eager to stay competitive in a world that places more value on appearances, hustle, and “making gains” than on rest and mental wellness.

The holiday season can provide us an opportunity to lean into those expectations or give ourselves and our loved ones the best gift of all: self care in the form of rest.

Let’s face it: You’re not you when you’re exhausted. Sleep deprivation can leave you tired, irritable, weak, and can even cause impaired memory and immunity. Many of us hustle for more than just ourselves, we do it for our loved ones; we want them to have the best opportunities, the best parties, the best gifts — whatever it might be this holiday season. But really, the best thing we can do for our families is to be our best selves, and that comes from resting.

Often when we think of self-care, we think of what we see in the movies: A face mask, a manicure, a warm cup of tea. These are all valid forms of self-care, of course — whatever allows your body and mind to rest and relax are good options when recovering from hustle culture. But with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that 1 in 3 adults are not getting enough sleep, I propose something a little different: Prioritizing sleep like we should have been all along. Because while simple self-care can work wonders for your mental and physical health, there’s nothing quite as restorative as sleep.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports the many benefits of getting enough sleep, including:

  • Lowering your risk for serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity
  • Reduced stress
  • Getting sick less often
  • A clear mind and better results at work and in school
  • Better decisions and less injuries from dangerous behavior such as drowsy driving

If you’re sold on sleep but aren’t sure how to start hacking away at your sleep debt, don’t worry — there are some easy habits you can implement that will have you snoozing in no time. Ideally, adults should be aiming for somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep at night, but there’s no “one size fits all number” when it comes to sleep. Everyone is a little different. Here are some initial tips to help you get there:

  • Follow a consistent sleep schedule. If you’re going to bed and waking up around the same time each day, your body will get into a routine, and falling asleep will come more easily
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. There’s no right or wrong way to do this; consider a hot shower before bed, a relaxing skincare routine, a meditation session — whatever works best for you is the right option!
  • Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark. Our bodies are conditioned to sleep best in these conditions.
  • Skip the caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals close to bedtime. These can all make it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  • Avoid electronics that emit blue light at least an hour before bedtime.

If you still struggle to sleep well, get enough sleep, or have trouble with quality sleep, talk to your doctor or see a sleep specialist for a consultation. There are evidence-based treatments for insomnia (eg cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia) that do not rely on medication to get a better night’s sleep.

I know the holidays aren’t the easiest time to prioritize rest and wellness, but it may be one of the most important times to do so. Getting enough sleep not only helps you be at your best for all of the quality time you’re no doubt getting with friends and family during the holiday season — it also sets you up for success as you go into the new year well rested, healthy , and ready to tackle any new year’s resolutions you may have on the docket.

Come New Year’s Day, let’s leave the rise and grind culture in 2022 — may 2023 be the year rest and relaxation find their way back on our priority lists.

Dr.  Shelby Harris

Dr. Shelby Harris is on a mission to help you get a great night’s sleep. As a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine, she treats a wide variety of sleep disorders, including insomnia, nightmares, and narcolepsy, with a focus on non-pharmacological interventions. She is board-certified in behavioral sleep medicine by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia: Get a Good Night’s Sleep Without Relying on Medication.

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