Is oversleeping during the Christmas holidays good for you? Don't bank on it

Growing children need all the sleep they can get but adults should think twice before 'banking' sleep with big lie-ins over the Christmas holidays

CHRISTMAS is a time to slump on the sofa in front of the telly, eat lots and catch up on all the sleep we've missed in the run-up to the holidays.

But while banking extra hours of shut-eye might feel good at the time, it could actually have a negative effect on your health – because, as with not getting enough sleep, there are downsides to getting 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."

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 for Silentnight says 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.

So, why exactly 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.

"For some, Christmas can be a sad time, and there's a lot of pressure for people to be happy, which can cause low morale. Many people try to escape these feelings by oversleeping."

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.

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."

How can Christmas contribute to the problem?

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 in the Christmas hype," she says.

Overeating and too much alcohol and socialising, can also play a huge role.

How can I quit the oversleeping cycle?

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."

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