Getting Children To Sleep Over Xmas
By Little Sleep Stars
Christmas is one of those events that takes on a whole new meaning when we become parents. Typically, the enjoyment multiplies whilst the amount of alcohol consumed rapidly diminishes! Yet for many families, it can also bring a niggling apprehension – that the excitement and change of routine will combine to create bedtime battles, sleepless nights and early-starts. Whilst the festive period can be the proverbial banana skin for child sleep, here are my top tips to navigate through without slipping up.
1. Maintain as much consistency as possible
Events such as mealtimes are body-clock anchors and will help to prime a little one for sleep at certain points. Unable to tell the time, babies and young children are driven by what time it feels like and so if the social cues move around, the internal mechanisms which ready them for sleep have a harder job predicting when to react. Whilst the odd day out-of-sync is manageable, a run of them can throw things off. Remember that adults are far better able to manage a temporary change of routine than babies and young children!
Always try to stick to your usual pre-sleep routine as the consistency of the same steps in the same order will help your little one feel settled and secure and to wind down ready for sleep.
2. Skip naps at your peril
Whilst naps can be an irritation in the context of social arrangements, they are also integral to a good night’s sleep for younger children. They regulate sleep-pressure and hormone-response and most little ones, particularly those aged two and under, need sleep at age-appropriate time intervals through the day – to keep both their sleep and behaviour on track! Concentrate on when your child sleeps rather than where – with some strategically timed car journeys and family walks, it is very possible to achieve reasonable daytime sleep whilst enjoying time with your nearest and dearest. If you have the option, most children who take two or more naps will best-manage the day if they have at least a good solid first nap in their cot.
3. The path of least resistance tends to littered with potholes!
It is hugely tempting to do whatever is most likely to return your child to sleep as quickly as possible when staying with friends/relatives and/or in the midst of a busy social calendar. Unfortunately, most little ones don’t understand the concept of “Christmas rules” and so moving boundaries around things like bed-sharing can be confusing for them and ultimately result in tears. If your child is used to their own sleep-space, maintain that – even if it means getting your hands on a travel cot for time away from home. If your little one will be sleeping in a bed other than their own, you can help them feel more settled by bringing their bedding from home. This can be a particularly effective strategy if you take it off straight off the cot and pack it unwashed as it will bring with it the familiar smell of home, especially when accompanied by last night’s pyjamas! Be aware that increasing or reintroducing night feeds as a means of settling your little one quickly in the night, even if it is only for a small number of nights, is likely to see those feeds stick.
Watch the (body)clock
A child’s body-clock is amazing and guides various processes that help to initiate and regulate sleep. When the smooth-running is interfered with, however, it makes it physically harder for a child to fall asleep. Screen time in the hour or so pre-bedtime, high-energy play or the delirious excitement of present-opening just before a nap, or a sleep environment that isn’t quite dark enough, are likely to drive difficulty settling to sleep, staying asleep and/or rising for the day inhumanely early.
If your little one is wide-awake at 5-something (or even earlier!) over the festive period, do not start the day as switching on the lights and having breakfast will reinforce the early-rising. You might not succeed in getting your child back to sleep at that time but do remain in quiet, calm and dark conditions until as close to their normal wake up time as possible.
One exception to the rule is around bedtime. If naps have gone awry and your little one is seriously flagging by late-afternoon, instigate some damage-limitation with an early bedtime. Generally speaking, anything up to an hour early-to-bed, as a one-off, will not drive a child to wake earlier the following day. However, early bedtimes are not a good or lasting solution for inadequate daytime sleep.
Whilst sweet-treats and Christmas are somewhat synonymous, high amounts of sugar are likely to see your little one struggling with sleep. This is especially so if chocolate is consumed late in the day as beside the sugar-content there is hidden caffeine lurking so try to keep those little festive indulgences away from the pre-sleep windows wherever possible.
If, somewhere between the extra glasses of champagne you weren’t going to drink and the mince pies you definitely weren’t planning on eating, sleep goes horribly off-track, do not panic. Return to your pre-Christmas sleep arrangements as soon as possible. There is likely to be a period of transition but with patience, understanding and consistency, your little one will re-adjust.