The holidays are hectic and can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule.

Dr. Sara Nowakowski, a sleep expert and clinical psychologist at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, provides some tips on how to strengthen your sleeping habits to keep you going during the holiday season.

Q: Over the holidays, is there anything that people should be thinking with regards to their sleep schedule that they may not already be thinking about?

Nowakowski: Sleep can get disrupted for a variety of reasons during the holiday including traveling, sleeping away from home, hosting guests, and due to stress the holiday brings. During this time, it is a good idea to try to improve sleep habits in order to head off insomnia. Here are six tips to help you sleep soundly this holiday season:

  1. Maintain a regular sleep schedule. It may be tempting during the holiday vacation, with guest visiting, and so much to do to stay up later and sleep in. However, a variable sleep schedule will disrupt your sleep by impacting your body’s biological clock.
  2. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and takes over 5-6 hours for your body to eliminate its effect. In addition, caffeine can exacerbate stress. Alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, but as it metabolizes it will cause middle of the night and early morning awakenings. It can also make snoring and sleep apnea worse. It is best to avoid or limit alcohol consumption.
  3. Avoid snacking late at night. There's nothing wrong with having a small snack before bed, however overindulging can interrupt your sleep because your body has to work harder break down and digest food as you sleep. When your body has to focus more energy on digestion, it takes away from your body repairing and refreshing itself during sleep. Try eating some cheese and crackers or other complex carbohydrates before bed so you don’t go to bed too hungry or too full.
  4. Schedule in a quiet wind down period 30-60 minutes before bed. Sleep is not like a light switch that can be turned off and on. Rather we need time to bring closure to the day and relax and quiet the body and mind before bed. Try getting into your pajamas and brushing teeth and then doing something relaxing that makes you sleepy before bed. Avoid purposeful activities that have a goal (e.g., wrapping presents, writing holiday cards) right before bed. Be sure to power down electronics 30 minutes before bed and take advantage of blue blocking features on phones and tablets (e.g., iOS Night Shift).
  5. With all the things to do around the holiday, you may find it difficult to shut off your brain when trying to go to sleep. If you are the type of person that thinks about problems or runs over your to do or shopping list when you should be sleeping, try scheduling in 10-20 minutes during the day to plan your schedule, worry, problem solve, or make your list and check it twice. Then at night, remind yourself this is not the time to be worrying.
  6. If you are awake more than 30 minutes during the night, get up and get out of bed and do something relaxing that makes you sleepy (again not purposeful or goal-oriented, like internet shopping). When you are feeling sleepy, then return to bed. Lying in bed awake, worrying, and trying too hard to sleep does not work. Sleep needs to unfold naturally, so if it is not happing you cannot force it.

Q: The holidays often involve a lot of ‘cheating’ with regards to healthy sleep habits (e.g., staying up late on Christmas Eve, too much drinking, etc). Do you have any advice for people who want to indulge in these customs but still want to be well-rested?

Nowakowski: If following the old adage, “rules are meant to be broken,” and you chose to ignore following recommended sleep habits, try modifying your behavior to meet somewhere in between.

  1. This is the time of year to be merry. If that involves drinking spirits, it is best to limit alcoholic drinks to before or during dinner, so the alcohol has a chance to metabolize before going to bed. Also, drinking alcohol in moderation is always a good idea.
  2. It is okay to shift your sleep schedule a bit later, but try to keep your schedule more or less consistent, and try not to shift your bed or rise time by more than 1 hour.
  3. If staying up late with friends and family, you can still take 10 minutes to meditate or focus on breathing in bed before you go to sleep. This practice can still work as a quiet wind down to bring closure to all the excitement of your day and help you fall asleep more quickly.

Q: Do you have any other holiday-specific tips for managing stress?

Nowakowski: Other things you can do to ward of stress during the holidays include:

  1. Plan ahead. In order to prepare for the holiday, think about cleaning your house in anticipation of guests’ arrival. Don’t wait until last minute to shop. Try to plan out your meals ahead of time, etc.
  2. Don’t go overboard on the alcohol and holiday cookies. Try to maintain a well-balanced diet and not over indulge.
  3. Continue to exercise and maintain physical activity to reduce stress.
  4. Remember the good parts about the holiday. Take a deep breath and take a minute to remember all that you are grateful for and why you are doing all this in the first place.