Wake up to the ben­e­fits of a reg­u­lar sleep­ing pat­tern

Catch­ing up on sleep is one of the lux­u­ries of the hol­i­days but are we at risk of do­ing more harm than good, asks Ciarán Wil­lis

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

WE all know Christ­mas is a time to slump on the sofa in front of clas­sic fes­tive films, ar­gue with fam­ily over the TV sched­ule and drift sweetly into a mince pie coma.

More im­por­tantly, though, it’s also a chance to en­joy a much-needed break and catch up on all the sleep we’ve missed after the whirl­wind work and party sched­ule of the pre­vi­ous months.

Ex­perts tell us that it’s ben­e­fi­cial to have seven or eight hours sleep each night, but we all know that life of­ten gets in the way. Thank­fully though, the re­laxed lack of rou­tine around Christ­mas — with the free­dom to stay in bed as long as we want the next morn­ing — is a great time to even the score.

But while bank­ing those ex­tra hours might feel good at the time, it could ac­tu­ally have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on your health. In­stead of not get­ting enough sleep, there’s a risk of hav­ing too much.

How does over­sleep­ing af­fect us?

Ac­cord­ing to phys­i­ol­o­gist An­drea Hous­ton, over­sleep­ing can have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on our cir­ca­dian rhythm — the body’s in­ter­nal clock that makes us feel en­er­gised and drowsy around the same times ev­ery day.

She ex­plains: “Over­sleep­ing can im­pact the pro­duc­tion and re­lease of sero­tonin and mela­tonin, hor­mones that con­trol things like mood, ap­petite, and our sleep and wake cy­cle.”

Hous­ton says that tam­per­ing with this can make us feel out of sorts, and can lead to big­ger prob­lems in the long run, such as de­pres­sion, heart dis­ease and di­a­betes.

Dr Ne­rina Ram­lakhan, a sleep ex­pert, says that too much sleep can also en­cour­age bad life­style habits, which can con­trib­ute to low drive: “If you’re over­sleep­ing, you’re less likely to be ex­er­cis­ing reg­u­larly and eat­ing healthily.”

Sleep­ing for longer, she says, can ac­tu­ally be a source of fa­tigue in it­self.

Why do we over­sleep?

There are a va­ri­ety of rea­sons we over­sleep, but Dr Ram­lakhan says that our men­tal well­be­ing can play a cru­cial role.

“Men­tal health prob­lems can have a big im­pact on sleep, as lack­ing mo­ti­va­tion and pur­pose — along with low mood — can make it harder to get out of bed.

“Obe­sity is an­other fac­tor,” she adds. “When peo­ple are obese, they are less likely to ex­er­cise, less likely to eat healthily and as a re­sult are more tired.

If over­sleep­ing per­sists, it could be part of a med­i­cal con­di­tion, such as sleep ap­noea, where a per­son stops breath­ing mo­men­tar­ily when they’re asleep, or pe­ri­odic limb move­ment dis­or­der, where those af­fected have cramp­ing and jerk­ing of their legs dur­ing sleep.

Nar­colepsy is an­other sleep dis­or­der which can cause ‘sleep at­tacks’, where a per­son sud­denly falls asleep, and it gen­er­ally causes ex­ces­sive sleepi­ness.

Though, for many of us, over­sleep­ing can sim­ply be a symp­tom of our all too busy lives. “An im­por­tant fac­tor in to­day’s so­ci­ety is in­suf­fi­cient sleep, due to our work and so­cial lives,” says Hous­ton, “which is why we may then try to play ‘catch up’ at week­ends.”

Dif­fer­ent rou­tine

Per­haps the big­gest rea­son we over­sleep dur­ing Christ­mas is the change in our rou­tine, says Dr Ram­lack­han. In­suf­fi­cient sleep and an in­con­sis­tent pat­tern are the two main fac­tors.

“Our nor­mal rou­tine be­comes off bal­ance,” she says.

She adds that overeat­ing or get­ting stuck in a ‘food coma’, as well as too much al­co­hol and so­cial­is­ing, can also play a huge role.

“Al­co­hol can af­fect our sleep ar­chi­tec­ture, caus­ing us to have less REM sleep, the dream­ing stage of sleep,” says Hous­ton. “This will make us feel drowsy, and we’ll strug­gle to con­cen­trate the fol­low­ing day.”

How can I quit the over­sleep­ing cy­cle?

It’s un­der­stand­able for ev­ery­one to want a break ev­ery now and again, as well as a few glasses of wine to cel­e­brate the hol­i­days. How­ever, lim­it­ing over­sleep­ing is a good way to avoid go­ing back to work in Jan­uary feel­ing worse than you did be­fore the Christ­mas break.

Here, Dr Ram­lakhan ex­plains a few ways you can stay on top of your sleep:

1. Set some goals: “If you have new year res­o­lu­tions, now is the time to ac­tion them. Maybe these are health and fit­ness goals, or maybe it’s about get­ting out into the fresh air.” 2. Plan ac­tiv­i­ties: “It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut at Christ­mas, be­com­ing bored and, ul­ti­mately, spend­ing too much time in front of the TV. Plan­ning helps us to keep fo­cused and en­sures our en­ergy doesn’t be­come stag­nant.” 3. Keep your mood up: “You can do this by ex­er­cis­ing to re­duce stress hor­mone lev­els, spend­ing more time out­doors, ex­pos­ing your­self to sun­light (it in­creases the brain’s re­lease of the happy hor­mone sero­tonin) and eat­ing a bal­anced diet.”

Pic­ture: PA

OUT OF SYNC: Over­sleep­ing can dis­rupt the hor­mones that con­trol mood, ap­petite and our sleep­ing cy­cle.

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