It’s easy to have your family routines derailed during the holidays. Unless we’re careful, our family health can be compromised.

Beginning around Thanksgiving in the United States and continuing until January 2nd, we enjoy the company of family, friends, and community. There’s an abiding spirit of celebration, giving and receiving during the holidays.

This season is often filled with joy. But it does have a downside: By getting off health-supportive routines such as sleep, and indulging in a bit too much sugar in the form of sweets for the kids and alcohol for the adults, 2017 has the potential for getting sick.

It’s no coincidence flu season comes around right after the holidays. And our choices just may rank with getting sick because we neglected a flu shot.

T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby say in the book Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival,

Sleep is the biggest immunological defense scheme we’ve come up with yet, because not only does it defend us against other organisms in our environment, it defends us against starvation by the insulin-melatonin system. Insulin is produced only when your body senses sugar or stress.

Two main stressors effect our health during the holiday season. The first is sleep schedule, the second sugar.

It can be a challenge to maintain routines that support health and wellbeing like sleep during the holidays. But it’s not impossible. We can enjoy the company of family, friends, and community and not get off track.

Good news: most holiday parties hosted by wiser friends or friends with families are scheduled in the early evening or as day-time open houses.

Here’s the trick: Intentionally transition from party mode to peaceful home mode.

Tip one:
As soon as you get home after a party, change your clothes. It sets the tone that you’re not “up” and socializing. It also helps with the laundry chores or dry cleaning bills.

Tip two:
Center yourself in your home with a personal or family ritual.  A cup of tea, candle lighting, settling down with a book – any activity that can only be done at home. Try dimming the lights after 6:30 pm to set up an atmosphere of calm.

Tip three:
Process the event you just attended. Go over the highs and possible lows of the party with your children. This frames it as an event separate from the natural rhythm in the home. Don’t assume that everyone in the family had a great time.  We have different temperaments. Make space to honor the introverts as well as the extroverts in the family.

Tip four: 
Learn to say “no” and make your party choices based on personal preference.  Banish those “oughts”. Your family’s health and even relationships depend on it. I remember moving to a new town and participating in a cookie swap during the holidays. I did this for 4 somewhat miserable years before I learned to say “no”. I’m someone who naturally feels good with a meal that starts out with olive oil and garlic, and don’t do well with the precision required of baking. And my family experienced the overflow of my discomfort as I did something time intensive that I didn’t enjoy at all.

As Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting writes in this post, nurturing yourself is primary.

When you do get off the family schedule during the holidays, get back on it immediately. This is critically important if you have children. More and more studies prove that sleep deprivation affects children’s brains differently than adults with serious negative long-term effects.

Maintaining routines that support family wellbeing is so important for this time of year. Who wants holiday memories of cranky kids and testy parents?

Dr. Neil Stanley, former chairman of the British Sleep Society states:

The body loves rhythm and predictability. In fact, most sleepiness happens because we are very bad at sticking to regular bedtimes – going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. And holidays are just an exaggerated version of this when schedules go out of the window – often for several weeks.

And when in doubt, be clever.

One of our family New Year’s Eve traditions was my brother and I spent it with my aunt and uncle so my parents could have their own celebration.

They were Fun with a capital F. I still remember those marvelous New Year’s Eve celebrations. My uncle brought fireworks up from South Carolina. The evening began when the sun went down. We’d play board games, eat pizza, and there was no TV that night.

My aunt and uncle kept the excitement and suspense up from sundown to “midnight”.  Periodically they’d say “New Year’s Eve is coming soon! So you guys can go out with some sparklers.” An hour later it was “Let’s light just one Roman candle!”

Then at “midnight” my uncle would put on a fireworks display while my brother and yelled “Happy New Year” while beating on pots and pans with wooden spoons. Then it was off to bed.

I always wondered why my brother and I woke up fairly early on January 1st, feeling happy and ready to go out and play.

Full disclosure: my aunt and uncle had lied. 

It never occurred to us kids to look at the clocks. Even if it had, the clocks were hidden. What we thought was midnight was actually 10 PM. Still late for a 6- or 7-year-old. And still a unique family ritual and beloved memory. The celebration and connection with love was what mattered.

Don’t throw out the family routines for the 4 to 6 weeks of holiday celebrations. Your family’s wellbeing and health depend on maintaining them.

The Bedtime Blueprint is a tool that can help get the family back on track. It has everything you need to know about sleep in one place and just might you’re your health on track in 2017. Get it by filling out the form below.

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