The winter holidays are a time of togetherness, giving — and lots of food. Although we tell ourselves that these times are about noble emotions and actions, many of us anticipate the cookies, fudge and cheeseballs just as much as we do the next religious service or family gathering. However, there is no season like snow season to reach for healthier snacks. In fact, this one habit can make an incredible difference. Researchers have found that healthy foods fight effects of sleep deprivation and other unwanted side effects of the holidays.
Are You Tired During the Holidays?
Although the holidays are undoubtedly a time of great cheer, they also can be a time of sleeplessness and fatigue. Our bodies are put under a huge amount of stress from the changing seasons around us. Natural light levels are at their lowest in the year, leaving many of us feeling sleepy and tired all night and day. In addition, the ubiquitous presence of holiday lights and other cheery displays can increase light pollution, making it difficult to fall asleep.
The nature of social holidays also can make it difficult to keep your circadian rhythm aligned. Many social gatherings require staying out later, which throws off your natural internal clocks. Using alcohol and other substances is quite common during the holidays and can also interfere with your sleep-wake cycle.
Although these all can be challenges to the system, few people are willing to stay in a dark cave during the season of lights. Even if you love the holidays, these factors can begin to take their toll after a while. However, new research has uncovered some heartening news: Eating healthier snacks and treats may help to keep your energy levels high and fight effects of sleep deprivation all season.
Healthy Food, Healthy Energy Levels
If you reach for sugary and salty snacks when you are tired, you are not along. Researchers have found that people are less able to make healthy choices when they are tired, over-emotional or otherwise not performing at their best. According to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, eating vegetables can actually reduce your levels of fatigue.
In addition, the fatty and sugary snacks that we naturally crave when we are tired can have terrible effects on sleep. The same study found that people who ate more of these types of foods scored higher on scales measuring disordered sleep.
This is unfortunate because we are biologically prone to craving the worst possible foods for sleep issues while less attracted to ones that may actually help us. Despite this, choosing vegetables and lean proteins may really pay off in increased levels of well-being and a better night’s sleep.
The Vicious Cycle of Exhaustion and Poor Eating
Unfortunately, the more tired you are, the more you will crave sugary sweets. Our brains are hardwired to reach for sugar, fat and salt when we are feeling tired or otherwise under the weather. This can create a terrible self-perpetuating cycle every holiday season.
Fighting these cravings can be difficult enough on its own. However they seem almost impossible to resist when you consider that there are unhealthy options all around us at this time of year and fewer later on, when fruit will be cheaper and more ubiquitous. This can set up a negative cycle in which people feel tired and eat, then feel more tired because they made poor food choices, then eat even more junk food.
Although this vicious cycle can be difficult to avoid and even more difficult to fight, there is hope. If you are looking for a few ways to get the sleep you need and resist the growth of your waistline by eating more healthfully during the holidays, consider the following tips:
- Drink plenty of water, as this will help you to feel more full.
- Fill up on a salad or other healthy snack before going to the gathering or party.
- Bring healthy snacks such as cut-up vegetables to the party. Bonus points if you bring enough to share!
- Remind yourself of why you are eating healthy.
- Avoid alcohol and other mind-altering substances as much as possible.
- Try to get as much sleep as you can, as this will keep you from feeling tired enough to overindulge in the first place.
Although it is normal to gain a pound or two over the holidays, no one should be trapped in a vicious cycle of insomnia and food binges. If you feel like your holiday eating tends to get out of control, it is time to take control of your health and well-being and resolve to go for the healthy snacks this holiday season.