Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Chasing Z’s: How to Fall Asleep on Christmas Eve

It is the eve of Christmas Eve (December 23) and around the world children are on their best behaviours in anticipation of the night that Santa will travel to every house on the planet, delivering gifts using his advanced stealth technology and potentially a super-fleet of military aircraft. However, the anticipation of Christmas morning is counterproductive to the means by which we bring it closer. Put simply, we can all relate to getting so damn excited about the holidays that it becomes impossible to sleep the night before. Not only does this make the time pass more slowly; it prohibits Santa from working his techno-magic and breaking into our houses undetected. With that in mind, we have four methods you can use to get yourself to sleep and out of the fat man’s way:


The most obvious solution to the problem is to pop a few sleeping pills or down a bottle of Nyquil. Sleep medications work in a few different ways. For some medications (allergy meds in particular), drowsiness is just a side effect of their main purpose. These medications are appealing because they are easy to acquire and are generally less dangerous than prescription sleep aids. The drugs that are harder to get, however, tend to be more targeted in their strategies. Most sleeping pills bind to your brain’s GABA receptors. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. In layman’s terms, it is a chemical produced naturally in your brain that dials down activity.  Some prescription sleep aids are able to bind to GABA receptors in regions of the brain specifically associated with sleep, leaving other areas unaffected. Other, newer medications can even target the part of your brain that produces your body’s natural sleep-wake rhythms (the hypothalamus). These solutions aren’t perfect, though. They can lead to memory loss, hallucinations, and even instances of sleep-walking. Also, some people have an “issue” drugging their kids for something as trivial as getting them to sleep on a non-school night, so let’s explore some other options and try to find a kid-friendly one.


When in doubt, break out the eggnog. Truly, words to live by. As many of us are aware, part of the process of gradually poisoning yourself with alcohol is that, at some point, you might pass out. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it impairs function in certain parts of your brain. We all know the impact this can have on coordinated motor functions like walking and talking, but it also applies to the deeper, more primal regions of your brain that control very basic things like keeping you conscious. As alcohol spreads through your brain it naturally wants to equally disperse itself. That means, while you may only want to turn off the parts of your brain that are preventing you from talking to the attractive intern at the office Christmas party, eventually the booze will work its way into your brain’s alertness centre. When that happens, your body will basically shut down. This may be a good thing if your goal is to suddenly find yourself waking up in a bathtub on Christmas morning, but it does have its drawbacks. Completely ignoring the prospect of an absolutely epic hangover (turn down the Christmas carols, please) you may overshoot your target level of intoxication and end up dead from alcohol poisoning. Sorry, kids.


Simple and to the point, a well-placed blow to the head will send you off to dreamland in a snap. Ask any boxer to describe getting knocked out and you will quickly understand the process. Over the course of a fight, as punches pile up, boxers often describe feelings of numbness, stumbling, loss of coordination, trouble thinking and eventually total collapse. Basically what is happening is that as your head snaps around in response to impact, your brain smashes up against your skull. When that happens, normal function gets scrambled in the same way it does when you drop your cell phone from an uncomfortable height. This is potentially the worst way to put yourself to sleep. First off, if Santa finds you unconscious and bloody, he might infer reasons to put you on the naughty list. Second, concussions are damaging and – given enough of them – fatal. Definitely not worth the risk.


In the end, the best solution to our sleep dilemma is the one you least want to hear at this relaxing time of year. As it is for basically every other physical problem, exercise is the safest answer. Exercise fatigues your body and mind at the same time that it produces melatonin, a neuro-chemical that controls sleep and repairs muscles. For the average person, regular aerobic exercise is one of the simplest ways to ensure a better, more restful night’s sleep. Even people with insomnia benefit from exercise, albeit at a slower pace. Research has shown that regular exercise over a period of four months can begin to restore normal sleep cycles in even the most sleep deprived people. So if you routinely have trouble sleeping and want to be prepared for Christmas, start running on Labour Day.

So there you have it! Plenty of options to help you get to sleep. This list isn’t exhaustive, though. There are many other ways to overcome the urge to stay up all night, including not ingesting sugar or caffeine before bed (lay off the cocoa), and lowering the temperature of your room (crack the window, it’s only a minor blizzard). See you on Christmas morning. Sweet dreams!