Dec. 9, 2003 --- For a laundry list of reasons including spending too much money on gifts, feeling the loss of a loved one, and the stress of spending time with a dysfunctional family, more than three-quarters of Americans don't get enough ZZZ's during the holiday season, a new survey shows.
In the new survey of 1,000 Americans, about 50% reported getting less than seven hours of sleep per night during the holiday season that spans from Thanksgiving through New Year's day. That adds up to a loss of three or more hours per week in the majority of those polled (sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours per night for adults). Of people with sleep loss, 40% said it was caused by remembering the loss of loved ones, 38% said it was caused by financial concerns, 37% said they couldn't sleep because they were too busy, and 33% cited family issues.
Overall, about 50% said they experienced some degree of stress during the holidays, and of these, 55% said the stress prevented them from sleeping at night. What's more, the greater their stress, the more likely they were to have trouble sleeping, the survey showed. In addition, holiday stress also affected sleep quality, the survey showed.
"During the holiday season, we are all pressed time-wise, we race around to get our shopping done and finish all the work we left for year-end and people spend more money then they plan to or should at holiday time and then they can lose sleep," says Ellen Miller, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. "Holidays are also difficult for people who have lost loved ones and it may be the first holiday that loved ones are not there," says Miller, who is also in private practice in Hewlett, N.Y.
Another stressor may be the yearly fight about whether you spend the holidays with the outlaws or in-laws or who do you visit and on what night, she tells WebMD.
The Holiday Sleep Solution
Sleep loss is a common problem in the U.S. which tends to get worse during the holiday season.
And "the way that we can maximize sleep is to get rid of the stress that we focus on at bedtime," she says. "Plan ahead and don't leave all the shopping to the last minute and put money away in advance, rather than max out your credit cards and be concerned about how to pay it back with all the interest," Miller suggests.
Other tips include practicing good sleep hygiene. "Use the bed and bedroom for sleeping and don't take work or bills into the bedroom because it's better to do those activities somewhere else," she says.
Eat Drink and Be ... Sleepy?
"Everybody likes to be a social butterfly and attend every social function during the holidays, but if we go out every evening, we may eat too much and drink too much which will affect sleep," she says.
"People may turn to alcohol because they think they will sleep better, but it backfires because later during the night when it's coming out of system, it is likely to cause more awakening," says David Neubauer, MD, an associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore, and author of Understanding Sleeplessness.
"Alcohol is never a good solution, but the bigger problem is being out driving while sleep deprived when you have had alcohol," he stresses. "That can have disastrous effects."
Holidays can be a challenge to sleep, he says.
"You have got more social activities that interfere with sleep, but there is also shopping to be done," he says. "You have to balance your sleep because when sleep loss is unavoidable, you can make up for it at other times," he says.
"If you have got plenty of sleep in the bank, you can withdraw a little bit for a special occasion," Neubauer says, adding that the trouble occurs when you are overdrawn.
Miller says that if sleep problems are "going on for several weeks and don't resolve by the time that the holiday season is over, talk to your doctor."