School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


21 Dec 2017

Christmas has your number when it comes to slumber – why certain people struggle to sleep over the festive period

Prepare to be ‘found out’ if you have a hidden predisposition for insomnia – Christmas exposes all your sleep vulnerabilities.

Being susceptible to problems dropping-off is in your DNA, says Professor Kevin Morgan, director of the Clinical Sleep Research Unit at Loughborough University, and there is no better time for revealing those weaknesses than the ‘alcoholidays’.

Seasonal booze and food, and longer busier days socialising and enjoying the majesty of Christmas, upsets the body’s balance and amplifies any dormant sleep conditions – which otherwise remain hidden during periods of normality and routine.

Prof Morgan said that experiencing trouble sleeping or feeling restless is common during the festive period, and has given a few tips on how to get the best from your night’s sleep.

He said: “These recreational events, these ‘alcoholidays’, that occur several times a year – at Easter and Christmas – they tend to pick out the vulnerable members of a family, who will know that this is that period of the year when things work quite well for everybody else, but it hammers their sleep.”

Prof Morgan recommends keeping as true to your normal bedtime routine as possible to get the best from the night’s sleep.

Avoiding excess alcohol is another measure people can take to avoid waking early or feeling restless.

“Over the festive period, almost everybody will engage in drinking behaviour that departs from the norm, and we can expect certain consequences from this,” said Prof Morgan. “Alcohol is an interesting drug. It has this effect on our mood, it helps disinhibit, it makes us less anxious. This is one of the reasons it helps us get to sleep, but it’s very, very short lasting.

“And, the biggest problem with alcohol is that it will abandon you about two-to-three hours into you sleep. Many people who drink to excess will experience falling asleep very easily, but they are very likely to wake up in the early hours of the morning feeling awful.”

Taking more than the average of 10 to 15 minutes to nod-off could mean you are one of the 10% of the population which suffers from insomnia.

According to NICE, insomnia is: ‘… difficulty in getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, early wakening, or non-restorative sleep despite adequate time and opportunity to sleep, resulting in impaired daytime functioning, such as poor concentration, mood disturbance, and daytime tiredness.&rsquo

Even if you don’t have hidden insomnia, alcoholiday sleep issues mimic many of the same characteristics and could indicate some other disorder, said Prof Morgan.

“Some people are simply born, wired-up, to be more vulnerable than others. This has to do with the way people operate their focus and with their natural arousal levels.

“Some people have a faculty for focussing most of their attention on almost nothing, and this could be incredibly valuable for someone like myself as a researcher. But when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep it’s not terribly helpful.”

Many sleep disorders will return to their dormant states once the holiday period is over, reassured Prof Morgan.

“When it all dies down recovery is generally very rapid – boringly so, because it just tells us that the fun leaves us relatively quickly and we return to normality.”