December 06, 2021 4 min read

The holidays can be a hectic time for many. Long-distance travel, family gatherings, gift buying, and finishing up projects can amp up your stress levels. No wonder a 2015 Healthline poll found that over 60% of the respondents said the holidays were a stressful time for them. And with the added stress come sleep problems.

But there are other reasons people lose sleep this time of year: jet lag, sleeping in unfamiliar environments, changes in routine, and unhealthy habits. Not being bleary-eyed the entire holidays can seem like a tall order with all these sleep killers. But it doesn’t have to be. 

With the right strategies in place, you can get all the sleep your body needs as the end of the year approaches. Here’s more on why many of us lose sleep during the holiday seasons and what to do about it.

1. Money Worries

Money worries are the top reason people lose sleep, according to recent surveys. Gifts, tickets, and dinner reservations all cost money. And with recent economic difficulties, more of us are feeling stressed about finances now than ever. 

Budgeting can help you avoid overspending this holiday season and give you a sense of control over your finances. Shopping for bargains, looking for accommodation deals, and traveling light are other examples that can help you spend responsibly. And according to Joyce Marter, LCPC, an expert in the psychology of money, adopting a more optimistic view of finances with CBT techniques can help you feel less stressed about money.

2. Jet Lag

Traveling cross country or abroad for the holidays? You may end up with jet lag, a temporary sleep disorder caused by traveling across more than two time zones. Jet lag is a result of a temporary disruption to your body’s circadian rhythm, aka your internal clock. The greater the change in time zone, the more severe the jet lag symptoms.

Studies show that taking melatonin supplements reduces subjective feelings of jet lag compared to placebo. If going westward, going to bed after sunset can help adjust your body clock. If traveling eastward, avoid bright light in the morning and spend some time outside in the afternoon.

3. Change of Environment

Ever heard of the “first-night effect?” Sleep researchers have long known that some patients undergoing a sleep study have trouble sleeping on the first night of their hospital stay. You’ve likely noticed this yourself when trying to sleep in a new environment. 

According to a study published inCurrent Biology, the first-night effect is due to only half of our brains being in deep sleep when we sleep in a different setting. It seems the other half is working as a night watch. 

So, what to do to convince your brain it’s not really in danger? It seems this effect is more common in people with anxiety disorders, so practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime may do the trick. Bringing a pillow or blanket can also help induce feelings of familiarity.  

4. Change in Routine

Sleep depends a lot on routine. We should normally get up and go to bed at the same time each day so our circadian rhythm doesn’t get disrupted. If you tend to stay up late and sleep in during the holidays, then your sleep schedule is not in sync with your body’s clock, which impairs sleep quality.

Try to stick to a routine during the holidays by making sleep a priority. Going to bed at a set time close to your usual bedtime doesn’t mean the holidays are any less fun. And waking up early can help you spend the day being active and socializing, both of which can lead to sounder sleep.

5. Unhealthy Habits

It’s understandable people want to forget their diet during the holidays. But unhealthy habits can interfere with your sleep, among other things. Drinking any amount of alcohol before bed, for example, causes trouble falling asleep and getting into deep sleep. Similarly, eating heavy meals before bed can do the same.

Try to limit alcohol intake to one to two units per day and avoid drinking right before going to bed. Also, watch your portions at the dinner table! It’s ok to enjoy good food during the holidays, just do so moderately for the sake of your sleep and waistline.

6. Snoring

Another less talked about holiday sleep disruptor is snoring. Sharing a hotel room with someone who snores can make it difficult to sleep. And if you yourself are the offending party, it can lead to a lot of resentment. Worst of all, snoring tends to get worse in habitual snorers around the holidays due to jet lag or regular drinking. 

There are three ways to address snoring: sleep in a different room, wear earplugs, or use snoring solutions as a preventive measure. The last bit includes sleep apnea mouthpieces like our  tongue-stabilizing devices. These keep mouth structures in place to prevent snoring and can be worn by almost anyone. 


Big Meals, Tight Schedules and Wallets: What Stresses Us Most at the Holidays. Updated Aug. 2016.

Marter M. 6 Ways to Recover From Pandemic-Induced Financial Anxiety. Psychology Today.

Herxheimer A. Jet lag.BMJ Clin Evid. 2014;2014:2303. Published 2014 Apr 29.

Herbst E, Metzler TJ, Lenoci M, et al. Adaptation effects to sleep studies in participants with and without chronic posttraumatic stress disorder.Psychophysiology. 2010;47(6):1127-1133.doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.2010.01030.x

Tamaki M, Bang JW, Watanabe T, Sasaki Y. Night Watch in One Brain Hemisphere during Sleep Associated with the First-Night Effect in Humans. Curr Biol. 2016;26(9):1190-1194.doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.02.063

Pachecho D. Bedtime Routines for Adults. Sleep Foundation. Jan 2021.

Ebrahim IO, Shapiro CM, Williams AJ, Fenwick PB. Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013;37(4):539-549.doi:10.1111/acer.12006

Kinsey AW, Ormsbee MJ. The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives.Nutrients. 2015;7(4):2648-2662. Published 2015 Apr 9.doi:10.3390/nu7042648

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