The simple trick to rewiring your brain to beat holiday stress

Beautiful woman decorating a Christmas tree

I don’t know about you, but I’m already feeling the stress of the holiday season.

Although the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is easily my favorite time of the year, like most people, I spend far too much of it burning the candle at both ends, leaving me anxious and overwhelmed.

And if you’re like me, you may already be wondering if in addition to the joy of the season, how much stress you’re going to have to deal with.

Luckily, thanks to brand-new research from the University of California, Berkley, we can now take advantage of a simple way of rewiring our brain connections to reduce anxiety and make it through the holiday season more stress-free.

Three studies, one important conclusion

In fact, the research involved three separate studies that all came to the same result…

In the first, the scientists used a series of experiments including MRI and polysomnography (recording brain waves, leg and eye movement, heart rate and more during sleep), among other measures for 18 adults.

They then scanned their brains as they viewed emotionally stressful video clips after a full night of sleep and again after a tough, sleepless night and measured their anxiety levels.

And, the team found that after a night of no sleep, the participants’ brains actually shutdown in the area of the medial prefrontal cortex, which normally helps keep our anxiety in check. At the same time, their brain’s deeper emotional centers were overactive.

“Without sleep, it’s almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake,” said study senior author Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology.

On the other hand, after a full night of sleep, anxiety levels declined significantly, especially for those who experienced more slow-wave NREM sleep (or deep sleep).

Deep sleep restored the prefrontal cortex activity to block escalating stress levels.

Yet the scientists were worried that since the study was small, their results might not translate to the real world.

So, they did the study again… this time in a new group of people.

And guess what…

They got the same results!

Deep sleep rewired the brain connections that lead to anxiety and high stress levels.

But this team of researchers was 100 percent dedicated to proving that sleep is the answer to stress, so they did one more study…

The team conducted an online survey, tracking almost 300 people of all ages to determine the association between their sleep quality and their anxiety levels. And, once again, they proved that the quality of sleep they got the night before predicted how much stress they would feel the next day.

All in all, their study showed that a sleepless night can raise your stress by a whopping 30 percent!

Shakespeare had it right

So, it’s clear that when Shakespeare wrote in his famous play, Macbeth that sleep is the “balm of hurt minds” he had it exactly right.

To get more deep sleep and stress less this holiday season, follow these five tips:

  1. Power down — Bright lights and screen time are a no-no for a full hour before bedtime if you want to sleep deeply.
  2. Set a schedule — You should go to bed and get up at the same time, even on weekends.
  3. Pick a temperature — Some people prefer a cool bedroom environment while others sleep best when it’s warm. So, figure out what works for you and stick to it.
  4. Watch your eating and exercise schedule — Try to avoid eating a large meal or doing vigorous exercise for three hours before bedtime.
  5. Support your adrenals — When your adrenals are overwhelmed, it can wreak havoc on your sleep. Use proven adrenal supporting supplements.
    • Ashwagandha root — An ancient Ayurvedic herb that promotes healthy cortisol production and energy levels and strengthens your adrenals
    • Rhodiola rosea extract — An adaptogen that helps boost energy and lower cortisol
    • Boswella serrata extract — Helps support joint comfort and reduce muscle soreness to stop them from interfering with your sleep
    • Holy basil powder — Supports healthy cortisol levels, reduces anxiety and boosts your mood and brain health
    • L-Theanine — An amino acid that supports healthy sleep, relaxation and a calm mind

The holidays and the stress that comes with them are here but you have the power to ease that stress to enjoy the season more fully when you use the tips above to get better sleep and rewire your anxious brain.