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6 Steps for Surviving the Party Season on Little Sleep

It's that time of the year again: last minute deadlines at work, parties with friends, long celebratory lunches and yet another glass of something fizzy because, come on, it's nearly the holidays!

From Melbourne Cup until the middle of January, life is one long social engagement. And with that, all our best intentions - gym-going, five daily serves of veggies and alcohol-free nights - fall away.

This year, though, sleep coach Cheryl Fingleson wants us to make one aspect of our health a priority during the party season.

'Summer and getting a good night's sleep don't mix well for many of us. The nights become hot and muggy, our bodies are frequently full of sugar and alcohol, we have a lot of late nights and our body clocks can get out of synch. But this year can be different. With a bit of planning, you can have your party - and still sleep,' she says.

Alcohol is a notorious sleep stealer. It interrupts our circadian rhythms, blocks REM sleep, makes us more prone to snoring and leads to more bathrooms trips in the middle of the night.
Solution: Stop drinking at least four hours before bedtime. For every glass of alcohol, drink two glasses of water. Stick to lower sugar alcohol, such as clear spirits. If you can't resist a glass of fizz, stick to the good stuff and stay clear of the higher sugar sparkling wines such as Prosecco.

Big meals
Eating a lot of food, late into the night plays havoc with sleep. It fires up our metabolism, keeps our bodies working hard to digest food and can cause acid reflux.
Solution: Where possible, eat your heaviest meal at lunchtime so you have plenty of time to digest. Stick to a light salad or veggies and lean protein for dinner and don't eat within two hours of going to bed.

Late nights
Our bodies like and do best with a routine. But when we're going out a lot, late into the night, our sleep cycles can be affected.
Solution: Aim for fewer than two late nights a week during the party season. Stick to your usual wake up time whenever you can. Skip the lie in and if you need a nap, make it a short one: no more than 20 minutes is optimal.

Too many treats
Sugar and sleep don't mix well but at this time of the year it's easy to overindulge. Studies show too much of the yummy stuff interferes with our bodies production of melatonin which helps us feel sleepy and keeps us asleep throughout the night.
Solution: Cut back on high sugar content food in the day and build your meals around slow-release complex carbohydrates and lean proteins in the day. If you can't resist, stop eating lollies and chocolates at least two hours before bedtime.

Sweaty nights
Even without the side effects of too many parties, sleeping in summer can be a challenge. Being too hot and having sweaty, uncomfortable bedding can make it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep.
Solution: 'At this time of the year, be prepared by doing a pre-heatwave audit of your sleeping area. Invest in a bedroom fan and some black out blinds if you can, use pure cotton sheets on your bed and pack the doona away,' suggests Cheryl.

Jet lag and travel
Travelling across time-zones can be tough on our sleeping routine. Even if you don't step on an aeroplane this summer, staying with friends or in unfamiliar surroundings can cause restless sleep.
Solution: Travel with ear-plugs or noise-cancelling earphones, a familiar blanket or your own pillow - items from home can be comforting. Beat jetlag by getting out in daylight when you arrive at your destination and stay away from alcohol, caffeine, unhealthy foods and as quickly as can to your destinations time zone.

Interview with Cheryl Fingleson, The Sleep Coach

Question: How does making our health a priority during the party season aid in better sleep?

Cheryl Fingleson: Many of us approach the party season already burnt out, tired and overwhelmed from the build up of stresses and events of a busy year, a full Christmas calendar and the relentless festive to-do lists.

Making health a priority will mean that wellness is not something that is forfeited in the flurry of wrapping and eating and socializing. It is very important to use any time you have off work to revitalise yourself, relax and spend quality time with your loved ones. An essential aspect of winding down at this time of the year is through sleep and rest. Think of it as a Christmas present you give yourself.

Question: Why is it crucial to continue exercising during these busy times of year?

Cheryl Fingleson: Being active provides so many benefits. It has been proven to improve your long-term health, give you more energy, help you manage your weight, relax you and make you feel content, improve your mood, enhance cognitive functions and mental health, and crucially, help you to sleep better.

The Festive Season can be very hard for many Australians, as it comes with social pressures, financial strains, temptations and for many, feelings of loneliness. Exercise has been shown to offset most the emotional and psychological impacts of life's challenges.

Question: How can we still incorporate exercise in our routine during the busy months?

Cheryl Fingleson: The party season can be an exceptionally busy time, but even small amounts of exercise can have a great effect and improvement on your wellness.

You're likely to have more success at incorporating exercise into your life if you:
consult an exercise professional for advice on exercising safely and avoiding injury
choose activities that appeal to you over the long term
schedule exercise like an appointment, and stick to it
set clear goals and be accountable for them
track your progress and celebrate your achievements
learn an exercise or two you can do quickly and easily for days when you're feeling particularly time-poor. Squats, push ups, curls and skipping can be done almost anywhere, at any time of day
devise a realistic exercise plan for your age, weight, lifestyle and routine

Question: How does alcohol affect our sleep?

Cheryl Fingleson: The party season is synonymous with the consumption of alcohol, because it improves moods, lowers inhibitions and aids in our relaxation and enjoyment of social occasions. But the flipside of our holiday drinking is that our sleep can be adversely affected, and here's why.

Drinking alcohol before bed is linked with more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity. That's the kind of deep sleep that is critical for learning and memory formation. At the same time, another type of brain pattern known as alpha activity is turned on. Alpha is not a normal function of sleep, but rather of wakeful resting. The combined alpha and delta waves may inhibit restorative sleep.

As many of us know, alcohol can interrupt your circadian rhythm, meaning its easier to become wakeful during the night. This is because it affects the normal production of chemicals that trigger sleepiness. After drinking, production of adenosine is increased, allowing for a fast onset of sleep. But it subsides as quickly as it came, making you more likely to wake up before you're truly rested.

What's more, those festive cocktails have been shown to block the all-important REM sleep. This is often considered the most restorative type of sleep. With less REM sleep, you're likely to wake up feeling groggy and unfocused.

Alcohol can also aggravate breathing problems. Because it causes your whole body to relax, the floppier muscles in your throat make you more prone to snoring and sleep apnea.

And finally, It leads to extra bathroom trips! Alcohol is a diuretic, which can make you need to go more, interrupting your normal sleep pattern.

Question: Are alcohol and sugary equally as bad for our sleep?

Cheryl Fingleson: The two things that have been somewhat demonised in the wellness world yet are still big parts our holiday practices are sugar and alcohol. A good glass of wine or a delicious Christmas can contribute to your overall sanity when you're eating well! But sugar and alcohol themselves, generally speaking, are not really sensible inclusions in a healthy balanced diet.

Cheryl Fingleson of Sydney's The Sleep Coach advises approaching with moderation." A natural, homemade dessert in a reasonable portion size is better than alcohol. A simple glass of wine is better than a highly processed or large portion of dessert. It is all about making the most whole, real food and drink choices," she said.

Question: How can we sleep well, during the hot Summer nights?

Cheryl Fingleson: Keep the bedroom as cool as possible, using curtains or blinds during the day to screen out the worst of the heat. Air-conditioning can be a blessing on the worst of Australia's sticky, humid evenings. Sleep in clean, natural linens, turn on the fan, drink water before bed and make sure the room is well ventilated.

Question: Should we be napping during the party season to make up sleep lost when at late night events?

Cheryl Fingleson: Ideally, no. For most of us napping can upset out natural rhythms and upset good sleep practices. However the party season is all about indulgences, so if this is going to make you feel better then naps in moderation are fine. Just keep them short and try to wake up before 3pm.

Interview by Brooke Hunter


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