Welcome back to Sleep Better, our advice column answering your most pressing questions about sleep — how to get more of it, how to improve the quality of it, and how to beat the most common factors that disrupt it. Each month, Shelly Ibach, Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large and President & CEO of Sleep Number, consults with other top sleep experts for the best tips on how to upgrade your sleep, and thus, your overall well-being. Submit your sleep questions for Shelly via Instagram; DM them to @shellyibach.
Q: “The holidays are always stressful for me. Flying back home to see my large, close-knit family in Florida is anxiety-producing in many ways. Airport crowds and delays are really stressful and by the time I arrive, I need to wind down and rest. But that is easier said than done — I am one of five siblings and the house is crowded! I share a room with my sister when I visit, and falling asleep is difficult (not least because of my sister’s snoring). I don’t want to be tired and irritable. What can I do to make the holidays a bit more restful and get some sleep (other than throwing a shoe at her)? I am 33, I have a challenging job, and my vacation time is precious.” — Nicole Gonzalez, H.R. Manager, Google, New York, NY
A: Nicole, this is relatable for so many people. It’s ironic that the holidays are supposed to be restful and restorative, yet they can sometimes end up being exactly the opposite. You’re not alone in needing some tips and advice to make things more relaxing and restful. It’s important for you to recharge and sleep well during the holidays.
While airport delays this time of year are out of our control; you can plan for and choose how you respond to delays. For instance, anticipate that you will encounter them and pack an engrossing book and a great set of headphones. And don’t forget to bring a cozy wrap. Do your best not to think about work and try to stay off your device!
When you arrive in Florida, focus on what you love about being with your family and your gratitude for this time together. As for great sleep, be sure to bring your favorite pillow. Having the right pillow is 20% of a great night’s sleep! I also suggest bringing a small bedside fan for white noise that will help mitigate your sister’s snoring. This will hopefully keep you from hurling a shoe at your sister (I know it’s tempting). You can also encourage her to sleep in an elevated position, or on her side, rather than on her back.
For further ideas to help you stay well-rested, I spoke to Dr. Nathaniel Watson, M.D., professor of neurology and co-director of the University of Washington’s Sleep Medicine Center. He suggests once you’re in Florida, “Try wearing a mask over your eyes in bed and using a white noise machine to minimize any obtrusive light and noise in your environment. This will allow you to fall asleep even if it’s crowded in the house. And if you can find the time to sneak in exercise during your trip, that can also be a good way to reduce stress and help you doze off,” adds Dr. Watson.
I also spoke to health and performance psychologist Inna Khazan, Ph.D., a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and the author of Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life, who says, “If you find yourself unable to sleep while listening to your sister snore, willing her to stop will not work.” As challenging as this may be, your best bet may be to try to “accept that snoring is a part of your experience at that moment. Let it be, and mindfully attend to the sounds you hear.” You can also try wearing noise-canceling earbuds, Khazan adds. “And if circumstances allow, getting an Airbnb nearby could mean you get a good night’s sleep and are refreshed and ready to reconnect with family in the morning.”
Holidays are a special time, but they come with unique stressors. Most stem from spending more time than usual with other people and feeling pressure to please others. I want to emphasize, Nicole, that taking good care of yourself at this time of year is crucial. As Inna Khazan says, “when things get busy, self-care tends to be the first thing to go, and yet that is exactly when we need it the most. The airplane metaphor seems appropriate — before takeoff, the flight attendant warns that if an oxygen mask comes down, you should put one on yourself first and then help others.” When you take better care of yourself, you’ll find yourself much better able to take care of other people and connect with your loved ones. That means ensuring you get quality sleep, which translates to physical and mental wellness and emotional well-being.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of a good attitude. I’m glad you have a sense of humor, Nicole, because that will make all the difference. Seek joy everyday!
Sleep well, dream big,