With sleigh bells ringing and festive joy sweeping the nation many people will have their minds firmly set on relaxing this Christmas. However, when we look into the physiological and psychological effects Christmas can have on the body, we may be interested to learn it can have an ever so slightly less than positive effect. Dissecting the most common of Christmas day activities and looking at them under the microscope, we uncover a cataclysmic cocktail of drugs coursing through the veins of our nearest and dearest. Prepare for the most depressing article you will ever read about Christmas…
Credit: Kevin Lawver
A decent amount if REM sleep is needed to allow us to recharge our brains and prepare us for the next day ahead. Unfortunately, if you are a parent, the luxury of sleep is not something you will be afforded this Christmas. You stay up late to put the Children’s presents under the tree, knock back the glass of milk and cookies you have “left for Santa” and trudge on to bed… only for a hyper child to rush into your bedroom at 6am demanding presents RIGHT NOW.
It’s no secret that your body needs rest to be at its best, but not sleeping enough can have lasting damage on your body. Sleep allows us to consolidate memories during REM, processing events and filing them away. Forgoing that process means problems for your hippocampus, the part of your brain associated with memory. Though it may be tempting to soldier through the night, the entire point of the holidays is to create long-lasting happy memories, so don’t do them a disservice by preventing your brain’s filing mechanism.
Dopamine and Adrenaline Cocktails
When your body’s chemistry is already compromised, putting it through an adrenalin-fuelled activity like opening Christmas gifts isn’t really optimal. If you analyse what is going on in a typical child’s brain when they open gifts you will notice an increased amount of adrenalin, dopamine and serotonin, all neurochemicals that promote a heightened sense of pleasure. Dopamine, for instance, is the neurochemical primarily affected by stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Although your child is not exactly comparable to some kind of stimulant-filled drug field, I am sure many parents will testify that they struggle to see the difference on Christmas day. A study conducted by Bryn Mawr University has examined the effects of large amount of dopamine on the brain which shown evidence of people losing their ability to reason in order to achieve satisfaction. The expectation of so many gifts and amazing food on Christmas day can potentially be compared to an addict just about to take their next hit: the giddy desperation for it to be Christmas morning right now has surely been felt by everyone at some point in their lives.
When you’re going to be cooking all day, the urge to skip this meal might be strong, but you’ll do better throughout the day if you have a breakfast with lean proteins (which release dopamine and norepinephrine for greater alertness) and quality carbohydrates (which release serotonin to improve your mood and satisfy your hunger). The typical quick meal contains loads of sodium, sugar and fat, which will spike your blood pressure and leave you bouncing between highs and lows. That coffee is also likely caffeinated, and caffeine puts your body in a state of alertness and fight or flight. When your body is already on high-alert, adding a sugar rush and the thrill of opening presents is a recipe for a mid-morning crash. After waking up at a reasonable hour, invite the family to breakfast, and save the presents for after.
Christmas dinner is also a big-time offender when it comes to wreaking havoc on your body, and that’s not limited to your waistline. It’s no surprise that alcohol impairs thought functions like judgment and energy levels, but since alcohol does nothing to affect satiety, you may consume more than you’d ordinarily like. Holiday foods may also have an impact on insulin resistance, which can flood your bloodstream with sugar, creating highs and lows and possibly leading to problems later on.
When you’re crashed from dinner, interaction falls to a standstill. Children often head off to their rooms to test out their new toys, and adults are unmotivated to keep the conversation flowing. If your body is low on dopamine, social situations become an anxious affair or simply not worthwhile. Avoid this by packing in the protein during dinner and leaving the calming carbs to a tasting portion. Christmas is the highlight of family events; don’t spend it snippy, worn out or unmotivated. Pay attention to your body’s chemistry to get the perfect formula for success.
(Written by Ross, a writer for the Boots Christmas Team)