Sleep and willpower: how to avoid overindulging this festive season

’Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry, but it’s still important to look after your health

The festive season is officially here, and we can all agree that one of the best things about Christmas is all the delicious food and drink options on offer. From selection boxes and festive snacks to celebratory tipples and, of course, Christmas dinner itself, this is the time of year when our inhibitions go out the window and all thoughts of healthy eating are put on hold until January. However, it’s still important to show some restraint and willpower, even during the festive season. Eating and drinking too much can have an adverse effect on your body at any time of year, impacting your mood, skin health, weight and energy levels, while also increasing your risk of serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes. And when it comes to willpower, sleep is vital. We’re going to take a closer look at the relationship between sleep and willpower to help you rest easy, have fun and stay healthy this Christmas.

How does sleep impact your willpower?

Research has shown that when we suffer from sleep deprivation, we’re more likely to give in to our impulses, including snacking on high-sugar and high-fat ‘comfort foods’ as a source of energy. One review published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience found that a lack of sleep leads to less focus and a greater risk of making risky or questionable decisions. Not only does sleep deprivation reduce your capacity to exercise willpower, making you more likely to give into temptation, but it can also lower the energy needed for your willpower too. This has been made clear by numerous brain imaging studies that show how attempting to control our behaviour increases brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. When we’re sleep deprived, we experience a decrease of activity in the same area, which suggests that our ability to control our impulses could be neurologically impaired when we miss out on sleep. In short, losing sleep over the festive period can make you more likely to give in to unhealthy cravings and temptations, which will likely already be more tempting than usual at this indulgent time of year.

Why is willpower important at Christmas?

Of course, part of the fun of Christmas is relaxing and indulging, so why is maintaining your willpower so important? It’s vital to keep up some awareness of your health during the festive season because overindulging too much can have an adverse effect on your health. Statistics from the British Heart Foundation reveal the extent to which UK adults indulge over Christmas, spending a combined total of nearly 10 billion hours sitting down. Over the festive season, Brits collectively put on over 5 million stone in weight, and a third of us (33%) do absolutely no exercise over Christmas at all. This can cause a knock-on effect, as over 1 million of us won’t get back to our normal exercise habits until February. Losing sleep, moving less and eating unhealthily can impact both your health and your mood, meaning you may actually enjoy Christmas less when you indulge too much. By prioritising good sleep this Christmas, you can give yourself the willpower you need to have a happy and healthy festive season.

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