This is how your festive diet affects your Christmas stress levels

Struggling with Christmas stress? Here's how to avoid it

Illustration of woman reading by Christmas tree
(Image credit: Getty)

In need of tips for a stress-free Christmas? Of course you are. With the festive season upon us, it is certainly a time to indulge. But as much as it’s nice to treat ourselves at Christmas, how does this change in diet affect our sleep and mood? 

If you've not yet downloaded one of the best meditation apps to de-stress, then you'll be needing all the help you can get to have a happy, healthy Christmas.

Online discount bed and mattress retailer Bed SoS (opens in new tab) has teamed up with therapist and author of Sleep Ninja, Karl Rollison, to reveal which foods and drinks affect our sleep quality and health at Christmas.

Festive foods to avoid, to reduce Christmas stress

  • Brussels sprouts and cabbage: Though vegetables are assumed good for all aspects of health, some are high in insoluble fiber. Karl says: “Festive vegetables such as sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage are known as cruciferous vegetables and are really hard to digest! As they get broken down very slowly, they will start to bloat the stomach which can impact your sleep.”  
  • Sugary foods: Sweet treats like Christmas pudding, mince pies and tins of chocolates are often indulged in during celebrations. However, Karl advises watching sugar if you have trouble sleeping. He said: "Refined carbs, such as sugar, affect the production of the mood stabilizer serotonin, which is manufactured and stored in the digestive tract." That's why binging on sugar can lead to stress and anxiety. He added: "We need serotonin to convert into the sleep hormone, melatonin, in order to sync without sleep/wake cycle. So not only do we feel low after a sugar fix, but we can't sleep either!'
  • Christmas coffees: Most coffee shops have launched their festive hot drinks, which are essential on crisp mornings and late nights but Karl has advised people to be wary of excessive caffeine consumption. He said: "Most people know that drinking coffee throughout a normal day isn't conducive to a great night's sleep, but chocolate, soda, mixers, ice cream, liqueurs and cocktails can also contain varying degrees of caffeine too."
  • Festive fizz: Prosecco, Champagne and sparkling wine are often the go-to drinks over Christmas, which means consuming lots of carbon dioxide and can lead to bloating, heartburn and discomfort during the night. Karl said: "Alcohol can increase the time spent in the deep sleep cycle and reduce the time spent in the restorative Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep" - meaning it's great at making you fall asleep but results in poor quality kip.
  • Irish cream liquors: These traditional nightcaps couldn't be further from the assumption of making you sleep. Karl warned: "Baileys is full of saturated fat and has one of the highest sugar contents of any alcoholic beverage." As a result, you will get a lighter, less restorative and poorer quality sleep.

Danny Richmond, managing director at Bed SOS, said: “We love indulging in sweet treats and hearty meals with family at Christmas, but we also want to keep this festive season as stress and anxiety-free as possible. 

“This means getting enough high-quality sleep, so it’s great to know which foods and drinks help with that and which hinder!” 

Woman lying on bed with Christmas gift

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Festive food to choose, to help you get a good sleep

  • Turkey/nut roast: Ever wondered why you fall asleep after eating a Christmas dinner? Well, it's likely due to the fact both nuts and turkey are high in tryptophan amino acid. Karl said: "We convert this into serotonin during the day and it makes us feel good because it's a mood stabilizer."  Nuts also contain magnesium which activates the parasympathetic nervous system—the thing that's responsible for relaxation. Meanwhile, turkey is packed with zinc and vitamin B6 which play a part in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Who knew!?
  • Carrots and dark leafy vegetables: “Broccoli and carrots are great to eat for Christmas dinner as they are high in magnesium, which is one of the best minerals for relaxing the nervous system and aiding sleep.” said Karl. Carrots are also full of alpha-carotene which is associated with better sleep. Pack lots of dark leafy vegetables into your diet during the holidays, as kale and spinach contain sleep-promoting nutrients calcium and potassium.
  • Cheese boards: A popular after-dinner treat, especially for those who lack a sweet tooth is a cheese board. Despite the belief that cheese can give you bad dreams, it is high in calcium, which helps the brain convert the amino acid, tryptophan, to melatonin, which is why people with a calcium deficiency can have trouble sleeping.
  • Mulled wine: Oh yes, that's the news we've all been waiting to hear—mulled wine can actually help you sleep better. Apparently it's the cinnamon in mulled wine that has antioxidants that can help reduce bloating, leading to a more comfortable night's sleep. It can also act as a painkiller along with cloves in the drink which have antiseptic properties. Mulled wine wouldn’t be complete without oranges, which have high levels of vitamin C. Studies have shown vitamin C can help reduce the effects of sleep apnoea, as well as helping to prevent sleep disturbances.
  • Spirits: While some alcohol can keep you awake, wise choices can help over the holidays. Clear spirits like vodka and gin contain less congeners, which contribute to hangovers. Stick to these tipples in the evening and you will see the benefits in the morning, resulting in you feeling less tired and groggy. Karl suggested: “Choose dark distilled drinks such as brandy, rum and whisky as a nightcap, as there is some research to show that these are better at enhancing relaxation and aiding sleep.” 

How to guarantee a good night's sleep over Christmas

  1. Avoid bloating: Prevent bloating by choosing spirits which have been distilled, rather than fermented drinks such as beers and wine.  Also, try not to overeat. Going to sleep bloated can be extremely uncomfortable, so before getting into bed, try a few stretches, lie face down in bed and try not to eat or drink anything carbonated a few hours before hitting the hay.
  2. Time your naps: If you do feel the drowsy effects of the Christmas roast and have a post-dinner nap, ensure you don’t go over the 90-minute sleep cycle by setting a timer to wake up. If you go over this cycle, you’ll be affecting your circadian rhythms, known as the body’s regulator for the sleep-wake cycle, which can affect your bedtime sleep.
  3. Drink wisely: Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water to help your digestive system, especially if drinking alcohol, and choose decaffeinated versions of hot drinks or a small-sized cup. Try and give your body time to process any alcohol before you go to bed—on average, this takes an hour per unit.

Selina is a Senior Entertainment Writer with more than 14 years of experience in newspapers and magazines. She currently looks after all things Entertainment for GoodtoKnow, Woman&Home and My Imperfect Life.

Before joining Future Publishing, Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism. She is fully NCTJ and NCE qualified and has 100wpm shorthand. Having spent the start of her career working on local newspapers and online, Selina spent six years as Acting News Editor and Entertainment Reporter at the Scunthorpe Telegraph where she dug into hard news stories, conducted interviews, covered court reporting, features, and entertainment, whilst going to gigs in her spare time.

Whilst at the paper she was awarded an O2 Media Judges' Special Award for helping a terminally ill cancer sufferer realise his dying wish and marry his childhood sweetheart through a successful newspaper campaign. Things like this are close to her heart when it comes to using journalism to make a positive difference in people's lives.

Selina later branched further into all things celebrity to became a Showbiz Writer at Heat magazine, covering red carpet events, showbiz parties, and various launches before going freelance for two years. One of her biggest celebrity achievements - aside from generating celebrity exclusives - was interviewing Take That (including Robbie Williams) and bumping into Simon Cowell so much at events she told him 'I'm calling you my showbiz dad!'

In 2017 she joined TI Media as a senior reporter on Woman, Woman's Own, Woman&Home, Woman's Weekly celebrity desk before branching online in 2020 when Future gave her the opportunity to focus on digital-first.

When she's not interviewing celebrities you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories.