Sleep and stress during the busy Christmas season

With December upon us, the busy Christmas season has well and truly begun. It is a wonderful time full of excitement, shopping, socialising and celebrations. However, along with all of this busyness can come a lot of stress. With increased stress comes a reduction in self-care and poorer sleep.

This Christmas season, And So To Bed offers you tips to help you cope with the stress and ways to incorporate self-care into your busy month of celebrations.

London at Christmas time

How stress affects sleep and health

When we are stressed, our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol. This makes our bodies on high alert and can cause problems such as headaches and stomach upsets. Stress can also suppress our immunse system, making us more susceptible to colds and flu. It can also make falling asleep harder as we feel physically wired to take action and our minds fill with anxious thoughts. During the Christmas season we can find ourselves getting stressed by busy shoping centres, endless to-do lists, and family tensions. The stress this year may be even greater than usual as we spent the previous Chrismas in lockdown, thanks to Covid-19, and we may working extra hard this year to make up for it.

Rather than let the stressful parts of the season become too much and ruin the festivities, here are some tips to help you distress, relax, and enjoy this busy Christmas season.

Image of person outside in the snow wearing an orange jacket


If you don't look after yourself properly, you can't look after everyone else. Self-care means prioritising you and making time to recharge your own batteries so that you can get everything done this Christmas.


Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve sleep. For example, Studies have shown that a single 30 minute block of moderate exercise was sufficient to reduce anxiety and improve sleep, but that this improvement was even greater when the exercise was part of a regular change in lifestyle. If you can take a brisk 30 minute walk during your lunch break, this would be a great start. You could even try ice skating at one of the pop-up outdoor ice rinks around the country. Exercise is also a great way to counter the extra calories you might be consuming at this time of year, and a boost for our overall mental health.

Practice relaxation techniques

Practising some relaxation techniques such as slow deep breathing or mindfulness meditation have been shown to help reduce stress. Slow deep breathing helps to slow down your heart rate and leaves you feeling much calmer. Mindfulness meditation is a great way of being in the moment and taking control of an overactive mind. You could try using an app such as Headspace or Calms to help guide you through these techniques.

Do something nice for yourself

During the Christmas season it is easy to be constantly thinking of buying gifts for other people, so much so that you neglect yourself. If you are feeling very stressed or overwhelmed then do something simple like buying yourself a seasonal coffee or a scented bath bomb. This can be a great way of reminding yourself thsat you are worth taking a few moments to stop and simply relax. A lavender scented bath bomb would be esoecially great to use in the evening just before bed to help you relax and sleep well.

Alcohol at Christmas

The Christmas season is almost defined by boozy nights out and sipping mulled wine at Christmas markets or even at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. As great fun as this can be, alcohol might make anxious feelings even worse. Also, alcohol can be very disruptive for sleep. You may think that alcohol is good for sleep because, if you have drunk quite a lot you may fall asleep very quickly (aka pass out), but the alcohol will disrupt the quality of your sleep through the night and you might find yourself waking up several times in the night as a result. Interestingly, drinking too much alcohol decreases your serotonin levels. Serotonin is our "happy" hormone which stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. While alcohol can temporarily boost your serotonin levels and make you feel good while you are actually drinking it, over the longer term, it decreases the level of serotonin in your brain, making you more susceptible to depression.

Try to drink in moderation this Christmas season, especially if you are struggling with your sleep or feeling down.

Christmas and sleep
Christmas tree and close up of a red bauble

Christmas lighting

We sleep better when we have dim lights in the evening so that our bodies know that night is coming and produce melatonin to help us go to sleep. Christmas season is great for this because we use scented candles and sparkly Christmas tree lights which not only look beautiful at Christmas but also provide less bright light, helping improve asleep at this time of year.

Also, the fact that there is less daylight in the northern hemisphere at this time of year means that we won't be woken too early in the morning by the Sun rising at 4 am. The reduced daylight hours in winter also tend to make people feel sleepier overall and can affect your mood - something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you find yourself feeling sad and lathargic during the day then you might like to get some extra bright sunshine during the daytime by going for a morning or lunchtime walk to help. If you are really struggling, then your doctor may recommend medication to help with your low mood, or might even suggest an SAD lightbox to help boost your light levels during the day.

Beds and bedrooms

During the Christmas season we may be spending more time indoors, and more time than usual in bed snuggled under our warm duvets. It is a good opportunity to take a look at your bed and bedroom and see if it could do with an update. Your mattress, for example, has a lifespan of around 7 to 8 years and if it is significantly older than that, it is unlikely to be providing you with the right level of comfort and support during the night for a good night's sleep. Also, at Christmas time you may be having guests to stay and it is very common for the guest bed to be a hand-me-down old bed and not actually be the most comfortable bed there is. You could perhaps spend a night sleeping on your spare bed before your guests arrive to see how comfortable it really is!

And So to Bed have a great range of mattresses and beds to help your bedroom and guest bedroom be appealing and comfortable this Christmas.


Dr Lindsay Browning is the sleep amabasador for And So To Bed and author of self-help sleep book, Navigating sleeplessness. You can get your copy as an ebook on kindle, or in print from amazon or waterstones.

Posted by Dr Lindsay Browning
1st December 2021

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