Why Sleep Apnea Increases During the Holidays

It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I have to admit, I’m not feeling too well today. I had my usual two servings of turkey Thursday evening. For some strange reason, I had three pieces my other sister-in-law’s coconut cake, and as usual, this Thanksgiving dinner was much later than my usual dinner time. The next morning, I slept in a little later, but still didn’t feel as refreshed as I normally would. Later that day, I spent the day with my two older boys, Jonas and Devin at the Intrepid Museum. For some odd reason, I was craving toffee that Devin had brought, I was was eating one every 30 minutes. This morning, I was feeling even more tired than normal, and during lunch, I was craving soda or some other sugary drink, which I normally don’t drink.

I finally realized that eating sugar, and over-eating later than normal on Thanksgiving lessened my sleep efficiency that night, which raised my craving for sugar the following day. This just goes to show how powerful even mild sleep deprivation can cause a rise in sugar cravings, which if chronic, can lead to unhealthy eating habits, ultimately leading to weight gain. Stress (emotional, physical or mental), is also known to increase cravings for sugary, fatty, or "comfort" foods. And weight gain is known to worsen sleep apnea. (To listen to an interview I did with Peter Lappin on how you can Beat the Sugar Habit Before It Beats You, click here.)

The holiday season is known to be the most stressful time of the year, with all the over-eating due to holiday parties and late night dinners. This is why the rate of heart attacks is also the highest during this time of the year. Knowing what I’ve described, we should all take appropriate measures to eat more sensibly (and earlier), drink alcohol in moderation (and earlier during the evening), and do everything that’s reasonably possible to reduce your stress levels. Find out how you can do this by joining me on December 15th, when I interview Dr. Niloo Dardashti, an integrative psychologist and holistic healer on 10 simple ways to reduce stress.

I’m sure if we had a collective sleep apnea meter that measures the total amount of sleep apnea in this country, it will most likely be at its’ peak level during the next month.

How are you going to address this issue, if any, this holiday season? Please enter your response in the comments box below.



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3 thoughts on “Why Sleep Apnea Increases During the Holidays

  1. We’ve found that cutting back the number of starchy or sugary dishes really helps. Likewise we reduce the number of starchy add-ons such as appetizers (fewer or no crackers, croutons, crispy bread rounds and so on are sharply reduced), rolls, or cakes. It is possible to do this while adding other vegetables, fruits, shellfish and cheese, without anyone feeling deprived.

    As Type 2 diabetics under tight control, we also reduce alcohol consumption and try to reduce (or not convey) the social pressure of heavy drinking. We find that we are much hungrier for sugar and starch after drinking alcohol and get into the same vicious cycle that Dr. Park describes.

    We also find that tasty food, well prepared, generates a feeling of satisfaction that doesn’t come from eating large quantities of sugary, starchy, bland or poorly prepared food.

    Of course we have our big meal sometime in the afternoon to make sure it is well digested before going to bed. The early sunset in the winter allows for everyone to slow down into quieter activities and relax before an early bedtime.

    As far as parties go, we try to nibble as much as possible and use the party food as a meal substitute. We do not keep big desserts in the house nor do we participate in cookie swaps or pie sales (we are empty nesters – families could participate in these activities more easily as the food would be eaten more quickly).

    It’s really awkward sometimes, but we really try to spend our holidays having a few treats and the things we love, while limiting the rest of what we eat outside of the holiday parties.

    I’ve lost 82 lbs in three years and have not gained during the holidays with this strategy. My husband has lost 40. Our sleep apnea is reduced, although not eliminated, and we are on track to lose the remaining 15-20 punds to meet our goals.

    Happy and healthy holidays to all. Many thanks to Dr. Park for bringing this issue forward.

    Ann H W

  2. Ann,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have to commend you on taking such a practical and sensible approach to improving your health, rather than trying one of the many gimmicks out there. It’s clear that you and your husband are the exception.

  3. I put sugar in the body in a different way. I was addicted to carbonated soft drinks, which is a hard habit to give up. I’m limiting it to a minimum by not looking at it as long as possible. It does not contain them in my fridge