How to sleep well on Christmas Eve – and over the festive period

It isn’t just children that can struggle to sleep at Christmas time. These expert tips can help you get a proper night’s rest

A white metal frame bed with stockings hanging from it
(Image credit: Alamy)

Christmas Eve, although the most wonderful night of the year for some, and particularly children, is also the most renowned for poor sleep. In fact, the entire festive period is a time when we often suffer from poor sleep. Between hosting guests, enjoying too much food, and over-excitement, it can be difficult to get a good night's rest. 

If you are looking for ways to sleep better over the festive period, you are not alone. In fact, studies by Serta Simmons Bedding (opens in new tab) have shown that Christmas hosts lose around two-and-a-half hours of sleep per night when preparing to host friends and family in their homes. 

Here, we have rounded up sleep experts' best tips for how to sleep well on Christmas Eve, and during the festive period.

1. Try to manage kids' excitement

Christmas bedroom decor ideas with red and green bedlinen

(Image credit: Future)

'The excitement of Christmas can mean a poor night’s sleep for both kids and grown-ups, which is why it’s a good idea to build in some "wind down" time into the hours before sleep,' advises Theresa Schnorbach, Sleep scientist from Emma. 

'After the first year my kids woke me up on the hour every hour through Christmas Eve, I instilled a pretty strict routine with them, which worked surprisingly well,' says mum of two and Editor in Chief of Homes & Gardens, Lucy Searle. 'I made sure they got a good couple of hours exercise on the day, and didn't let them have any candy all day. I kept the evening very calm, with dinner, bath and bed time at the same time as usual, and put a stocking in their bedroom. 

'Then I (very meanly) told them that Santa didn't come to houses where children were awake and that they had to stay asleep all night for gifts to be delivered. Finally, I told them that when they woke up, they could open their stocking gifts and play with what was in them but not come into my bedroom until I said they could. Amazingly, it worked.

'Of course, as they get into their teens, you're awake way before they are, and the situation is reversed.'

2. Keep your own excitement/anxiety under control too

Christmas bedroom decor ideas with green and white bedroom

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'As part of your evening routine, you should do activities that help you feel calm and relaxed,' advises Theresa Schnorbach, Sleep scientist from Emma. 'Try some breathing exercises or have a bath to help you unwind before going to bed, and that may help improve your sleep. It’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon. Caffeine is a stimulant and can keep your mind awake when it should be slowing down.

'Once you have settled down and got to sleep, the last thing you want is any disturbances overnight. This is why it is important to ensure your sleep environment will not lead to you being disrupted in the night or waking up before a reasonable hour. 

'Managing your bedroom's temperature can be difficult no matter the time of year, but creating the perfect balance between hot and cold is one of many ways to make your bedroom better for sleep. 'Bodies need to cool down in order to sleep so while it might be tempting to turn up the thermostat in the winter months, this can be counterproductive to sleep,' Theresa says.

3. Set alarms to keep a consistent sleep schedule 

Two small christmas houses on a bedside table beside an alarm clock and brown wreath

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

While the Christmas break can be a time for sleeping in and recharging after a busy year, experts suggest sticking to a routine essential to getting enough rest in the holiday season. 

‘Prioritizing a good night’s rest at this time of year will help you to enjoy the holiday season to the fullest. Even if you are busy, you can help yourself get enough sleep at night by following a consistent sleep schedule, which means going to bed and waking up around the same time each day,’ explains Bridget Chapman, certified sleep science coach and senior editor at Sleepopolis (opens in new tab). ‘Even if you’re not at home, try to recreate a relaxing bedtime routine, such as a hot shower before bed, a relaxing skincare routine, or a meditation session.’

4. Keep an eye on how much you're eating

Cozy dining room with christmas decorations, candles, foliage

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

'One of the main joys of Christmas has to be the traditional Christmas Day dinner, where we indulge in richer and more plentiful food than usual, often falling into the infamous "food coma",' says Theresa Schnorbach, sleep scientist from Emma - The Sleep Company (opens in new tab). 'Eating excessively directly causes us to feel tired, as it puts our digestive system into overdrive, resulting in feelings of lethargy. 

'However, it’s not just how much we eat, but also what we eat that causes the sleepy feeling,' Theresa warns. 'Turkey, peas, broccoli, and even cheese are all high in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body to produce melatonin – a hormone that signals to our body that it’s time to sleep.' 

Foods like these can make it difficult to stay awake until bedtime and encourage long naps which can disrupt our bodies natural sleep rhythms. Trying to stay awake after a big mid-day meal is a good idea if you are looking to sleep through the night. 

'A healthy breakfast is also a key part of any morning routine,' says Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, TEMPUR (opens in new tab) sleep specialist and sleep counselor – so it is probably a good idea to stay away from the Christmas chocolates first thing in the morning. 

'Aim to enjoy a healthy mix of whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and slow-release carbohydrates. Great options include wholegrain toast with poached eggs and avocado, Greek yogurt with mixed berries and seeds, or a bowl of porridge topped with sliced banana and nut butter.'

5. Consume alcohol responsibly to prevent disrupting REM sleep 

Dining table dressed with Christmas ornaments, christmas foliage and tableware

(Image credit: Sophie Allport)

'Having a glass or two of wine with the view to send you off to sleep a little easier can be tempting. In fact, wine even contains melatonin; a hormone that can help you sleep,' sleep expert Theresa Schnorbach begins. 

'However, the relationship between alcohol consumption and sleep is complex: while alcohol acts as a sedative and can absolutely make you fall asleep faster, it can also disrupt your body’s sleep cycle and sleep quality. After falling asleep fast, chances are high that you wake up later in the night and struggle to get back to sleep. 

'Alcohol also disrupts REM sleep, in particular, the sleep stage associated with vivid dreams, which leads to less dreamlike experiences and inhibits its benefits for emotional processing during REM sleep,' she warns. 'So maybe think twice before you reach for that extra Baileys!'

6. Add essential oils to your bedtime routine to aid sleep

A white oil burner with a tea candle

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Although essential oils are typically used to make your home smell good for Christmas, select oils could be the answer to sleeping well at Christmas, sleep expert Ray Soberano from BestMattress-Brand (opens in new tab) suggests.

‘The powerful aromas from essential oils stimulate parts of the limbic system, a sector of the brain responsible for emotions, behaviors, sense of smell, and long-term memory,’ Ray reveals. ‘Some essential oils have relaxing effects, so when you smell these fragrances, your body’s receptors send calming signals to the brain to help your body decompress.’ 

You can incorporate essential oils into any part of your bedtime routine, from enhancing your nightly shower ritual to making a reed diffuser to experience the oils as you settle down for sleep.

For the best chance of a good night's sleep, make sure to pick the best oil for your sleep problem. Chamomile oil helps with restlessness, peppermint oil helps with congestion (making it perfect for winter colds), and jasmine oil is touted as excellent for tackling insomnia, Ray explains. 

If Christmas is a particularly stressful time for you, then you may need to lower your blood pressure to help induce sleep. ‘Bergamot oil helps to lower blood pressure,’ Ray says. ‘While some citrus oils may be too stimulating for sleep, bergamot is unique as it relaxes the body by lowering blood pressure. These calming qualities ease racing thoughts and allow sleepers to rest peacefully without feeling anxious.’

7. Get out of bed during the day and go outside for exercise 

A traditional, brick home during a Winter snow storm

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In cold winter weather it can be hard to build the motivation to get up and go outdoors, but staying in all the time could make it harder to sleep. 

'Enjoying small amounts of regular exercise is a sure-fire way to improve mood and cognitive function, meaning better sleep long-term, whilst also helping to reduce the risk of sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome,' explains Thomas Høegh Reisenhus of TEMPUR. 'Furthermore, it’s a healthy way to ensure you expend some of your energy and will help you feel more tired and ready for sleep in the run-up to bedtime.

'We should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, meaning 30 minutes of exercise every day, which can be broken up into more manageable 15-minute chunks as required,' he says.

'If you do enjoy more strenuous forms of exercise, it's best to schedule them into your morning routine, as exercising in the hour or so before bed will leave you feeling more alert and doesn’t allow time for your core body temperature to cool, potentially delaying the onset of sleep and affecting overall sleep quality.'

8. Stay away from blue light before bed 

A large white knitted stocking hanging from a wrought iron bedframe

(Image credit: Jody Stewart)

There are plenty of things in the bedroom that can disrupt sleep. From a pillow that doesn't suit you to not having the best mattress for your sleep position. The main cause nowadays, however, is bringing distracting mobile devices to your bedside. 

‘Avoid electronics that emit blue light at least an hour before bedtime,’ warns Bridget Chapman, sleep science coach. ‘And try to keep your surroundings cool, quiet, and dark – this might be hard if others are still awake enjoying the holiday spirit, but bring an eye mask and ear plugs to block out light and sound.’

9. Avoid after dinner naps, or keep them under 20 minutes

Christmas living room decor ideas

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After a large dinner, it can be tempting to curl up on the couch and have a nap to get you through the day. But, according to Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, TEMPUR sleep specialist, napping for too long can break your sleep routine. 'If you’re struggling after a late night, or if you're just in the mood to curl up and get cozy, there’s nothing wrong with indulging in an afternoon nap. In fact, a mid-afternoon nap can boost memory, improve productivity, make you feel more alert, boost your mood and ease stress.

'There are, however, two golden rules for napping,' he warns. 'Keep naps short – aim for 20 minutes at most, otherwise, you’ll wake feeling groggy, and don’t nap after 3pm. Napping too late in the day will interfere with your ability to enjoy quality sleep come bedtime.'

Why can’t I sleep during holidays? 

Restlessness and poor sleep are more common during the holidays than at any other time of the year. A mixture of loss of routine, late nights, and excessive meals can throw regular sleep into disarray and cause a momentary bout of insomnia. Usually, once regular life resumes, the sleep issues resolve themselves. 

Why do I feel lazy during holidays? 

End-of-year holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas can sometimes be coupled with end-of-year burnout, causing a feeling of laziness. For many, the holidays offer some time away from work and everyday stressors, meaning we will want to rest and recuperate ready for the new year. Embrace being a little lazier at this time of year, the chances are you deserve it.  

Chiana Dickson
Junior Writer

Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.