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Lifestyle & Life Moments
Lifestyle & Life Moments

How To Prep Ahead So You Can Sleep on Christmas Eve

A man setting the table for a holiday dinner.
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The holidays can be filled with joy, but planning the perfect season-long celebration can cause a ton of stress, especially if you’re hosting. On top of the already-manic holiday shopping, gift wrapping and other prep, as the host you tack on meal planning, groceries, cooking and cleaning up the house to make it guest-ready—all in addition to navigating often-fraught emotional dynamics that come with the time of year. All that stress can interfere with your sleep and leave you feeling run-down and exhausted, the farthest thing from merry and bright.

But with some strategic planning and mindset shifts, you can get all the most important stuff done, keep your stress levels in check, rest well and actually enjoy the holidays. We checked in with an organizing pro to give you a holiday checklist designed to get you the rest you need.

Step 1: Create Your Lists

Having a list (or multiple lists) is crucial for the holidays, when there are so many things to keep track of. But if even the idea of making lists of tasks seems overwhelming, take a step back and begin by thinking about larger categories.

“I recommend doing an initial brain dump,” says Amanda Wiss, founder of Urban Clarity, a New York City-based home organization company. “Begin by thinking about what the different buckets are. How many meals are you hosting? How many people are coming? How many people are you buying gifts for?”

Even if you’re not normally big on making lists, the holidays are a good time to take up the habit, especially if the enormity of all that you have to do might keep you awake. According to a 2018 study, people who wrote down a to-do list of tasks awaiting them the next day fell asleep 37% faster than people who listed what they had already accomplished. More impressively, the more items on the to-do list, the faster the participants fell asleep. Having clarity around all that needs to be done can help reduce the anxiety and the element of surprise around it, so you can drift off, knowing what’s ahead.

Step 2: Pare it Down and Assign it Out

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to do Every. Single. Thing. All. By. Yourself. Delegate some errands and tasks, buy some foods instead of cooking everything from scratch and let go of some things altogether.

“The holidays are so overwhelming, and you're not supposed to get it perfect,” Wiss notes. “You're supposed to enjoy it. Being able to look at your brain dump and then cross some things off of it is important.”

Letting go isn’t always easy, especially if you like things done a certain way. But trying to do everything yourself can backfire on you. Becoming overstressed disrupts sleep, and sleep deprivation—even for just one night—reduces attention, memory, decision-making, focus and more. It will end up taking you longer to get things done, and you’re more likely to make mistakes. So sacrificing sleep won’t make you happier with the results, and you’ll be less emotionally equipped to deal with the repercussions.

Instead, trim down the overall list of tasks and spread the work out among family and friends. You’ll be less stressed and better able to sleep, and this route is actually more likely to get you the beautiful celebrations you’re hoping for. “If there’s something you don't thrive doing or really love, but someone else in your family finds that to be really appealing, hand that off,” Wiss suggests. “Whether it's cooking, or shopping, or hey, some people are great at gift wrapping.”

Step 3: De-Clutter

Of course you’re planning to straighten up your house before your holiday guests arrive—and the sooner you can start that process, the better. A 2021 study found that if you perceive your space to be messy or cluttered, that feeling can impact what you do in that space, including cooking, keeping clean and sleeping. Research has also found that decluttering your bedroom may help improve sleep.

You don’t have to tackle the whole house at once; break it up into one room, or even one section of a room, at a time. It’s a win-win; your house will be clean before your guests arrive without a big last-minute rush, and you’ll rest better throughout the holidays as you tidy up.

Step 4: Prep a Cozy Guest Room

As the host, you want to make sure that not only are you calm and well rested, but your guests can sleep comfortably, too. Set up your guest room with fresh, festive seasonal décor, comfortable bedding and soothing lighting; plus, make sure there are outlets available for guests to charge their electronics, a water carafe and glasses, extra blankets, tissues and anything else they might need.

That welcoming feeling that sets your guests at ease and helps them rest well in your home can begin as soon as they arrive. “Have an eye toward making people comfortable in your home,” Wiss says. “I like to pretend that the guests are walking in. What happens when someone walks through the threshold of your door? Is there a place for their coat? Are you a shoes-off house? Where do their personal items go? Is there a drink coming up quickly? What will make them feel like they are welcome in your space?”

Step 5: Take Care of Yourself

As you manage the prep, shopping, cooking and other tasks, remember yourself; you won’t be able to tackle your to-do list if you’re exhausted. It’s imperative to carve out breathing time in addition to quality sleep before and during the holidays. If working out helps clear your mind, be sure to block time for a daily walk. If you smile waking up to a festive display, be sure to set it up. Keeping a normal schedule as much as possible and being mindful about alcohol can be helpful for getting good rest.

And when planning for big days, such as Christmas, if you’re hosting, build in plenty of time so you can get yourself ready. “Make your own personal list so that you're taking care of yourself, because I think that hosts sometimes forget to do the things that will calm themselves down,” Wiss says. Build in enough time to shower and get ready far in advance of your guests arriving, and be sure to eat and stay hydrated, so you feel fresh, calm and energized when the doorbell rings.

No matter how organized you are, and how focused you are on your good habits, you may still find yourself tossing and turning on occasion during the holidays. You’re not doomed to be exhausted—here are a few tips for drifting off:

  • Breathwork. A powerful way to help you relax is with box breathing. This simple, four-part deep breathing technique has been proven to calm the central nervous system by giving the brain a pattern to focus on. You can be assured that it works; members of the military, pro athletes, nurses and others in extremely stressful professions regularly use box breathing to stay calm and centered in stressful moments.
  • Journaling. If your mind is spiraling with all the tasks you have to complete, take five minutes to write them all down. In a 2018 study, people who did this simple exercise fell asleep 37% faster than people who wrote down what they had already completed.
  • Meditation. Mindfulness and other forms of meditation have received a lot of attention in the past few years, and with good reason: Research indicates this ancient practice can improve sleep quality significantly. And there are many ways to go about it to suit your personality. Too fidgety to sit still? Try walking meditation.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. This technique, in which you actively tense and then relax one muscle group at a time, has been proven to help bring a state of calm so you can more easily fall asleep. You can do it on your own or listen to a guided version on an app or on YouTube.

Step 6: Remember, Joy > Perfection

During the planning process and the holiday events themselves, let yourself accept help, take shortcuts and cross extras off your list if it all becomes too much. Resist the temptation to stay up late wrapping gifts or baking that extra batch of cookies—getting a good night’s sleep will serve you and your loved ones far more.

“You want to relax and reflect and create some joy for yourself and your whole family, and being frantic doesn't really serve anyone,” Wiss notes. “People will remember it feeling relaxed and enjoyable, even if it's not perfect.”

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