As the song goes…“It’s Christmas time….there’s no need to be afraid…”…. unless of course you are a parent with a toddler or preschooler, whose sleep could be entirely knocked off course due to the travel, late nights and excitement that comes at this time of year.
As the wonderful Christmas period approaches some parents will start to worry about how to maintain a well rested child and still enjoy the festive period.
As it is a time of travel for some and parties for others and hopefully excitement for all; it is possible that sleep can become disturbed and an overtired cycle can quickly evolve leading to a fussy, unhappy child (and parent) at what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year!
Go With What You Know
Whatever your current sleep practises are – this month continue to do what you have been- unless you are completely committed to staying in one location for a month and avoiding late nights and missed naps that is–Due to the nature of Christmas, many families will travel to spend time with loved ones and even if you are not staying away from home, you may not want to observe the earlier bedtimes that are often required to help better sleep to emerge. As a result, I would discourage any big changes unless it really does suit to baton down the hatches and prioritise sleep over social on this occasion.
When helping your toddler/preschooler to sleep better, deeper, longer and more, staying in one location overnight for 4 weeks is recommended- so, it may need to be an in-house decision, but the excitement that comes with Christmas may only serve to undermine your efforts and so the New Year may be more suitable for bigger changes to be introduced.
Furthermore, I generally don’t think it’s a good idea to make significant changes like giving the dummy or bottles away to Santa- although that can be a popular approach, I feel that it is a big adjustment for a young child and this may be better addressed in the New Year and to keep completely away from big emotional adjustments at this special time in their lives.
Relinquishing their security items is such a big transition potentially emotionally stressful and although some will give up the dummy or bottle willingly in exchange for expected gifts under the tree- many will do so as they of course want the presents, but the reality of their loss, may be traumatising and very upsetting and then they may carry with them a negativity, lead to unnecessary upset and it may degrade their sleep at a time of year when you routinely would like your child to be as well rested as possible.
Enjoy Days Out and Naps on the Go
Although you may routinely have naps in the cot- in order to partake in many of the events, napping in the car or the buggy is a great option.
Time your journey around your normal sleep time and ensuring that they firstly, get enough sleep, but that you are not necessarily completely tied to the house.
You will know your own child best, but avoid when possible missing their naps altogether but it this does happen- in the absence of a usual nap, make sure that bedtime is adjusted earlier to compensate.
Don’t Force Day Sleep In an Unfamiliar Environment
If you have plans to enjoy some family get togethers and your child will need a nap while you are there- unless you child routinely sleeps in this house, I wouldn’t be inclined to try to get them to nap in a cot in a strange room for the sake of one or two days. Definitely provide for the nap- but maybe opt for buggy or car sleep instead and then tomorrow or the next day revisit naps in the cot at home as before.
Of course, you may report that your child is routinely adjustable and if this is the case then they would probably not have an issue- but a large percentage of children will find it hard to sleep in an unfamiliar room and cot. If you do plan to nap in another house, spend some non sleep time in the room acclimatising them and be sure to always provide a good 10-15 minute pre sleep ritual to help them make the transition from awake to asleep. Bring your portable black out blinds and own bedding/ sleeping bag.
If napping in a buggy- make sure the room is dark unless you are going for a walk- and then use a snooze shade or similar to make the space dark and suitable to invite sleep tendencies.
Have a Later Bedtime ...but not too many in a row!
I think family time is so important, I think sleep is too, but I feel that we can prioritise and at Christmas time, family should come first. If some late nights are called for then allow them to happen; be flexible and then ensure that you allow a level of compensation, but in the right areas-
So even if you have a later than normal bedtime- anchoring the day with a regular wake time of 7.30am despite going to bed later the night before can help regulate the body clock and avoid a common pitfall that can lead to sleep refusal.
You can certainly allow for a longer nap as the day unfolds and for children who no longer nap- re-inserting a nap can be a good way to balance the sleep need- without going into freefall.
Be Mindful of Increased Sugar Intake
Again, it’s so normal that there are more goodies available, but be mindful of the impact of increased sugar intake, layered with high levels of excitement- everything in moderation being careful that you do not allow unlimited access to the desert tray, biscuits and sweets to avoid issues.
Screen Time versus Green Time
Many children will enjoy watching Christmas movies, playing computers games and electronic media gadgets and of course it’s going to happen, especially with older siblings or family members. However, ensure that you are limiting screens at least 1 hour before the anticipated bedtime and also balancing sedentary activity with outside activity and fresh air.
We continually need to walk a tight rope- even if the weather is not amazing, bundle up and create plenty of opportunity for 1- hour -or-more-a day outside activity and fresh air-with plenty of natural light exposure to help to regulate the sleeping patterns.
Help them to Switch off
It’s a sensory overload – the lights, the music, the decorations; coupled with the anticipation that Christmas brings- visitors, higher levels of stimulation- party games and so on, can mean that it is hard for your child to relax and wind down in preparation for sleep- ensure that you are providing an opportunity to prepare for sleep- away from the busyness of the fun and excitement.
Have a bedtime routine – at least 20 minutes or more – with just one parent- in the bedroom that they sleep in. Give loads of time to them to help bring them down from their natural high and new experiences, smells, tastes and people.
Try your best to ensure that the bedtime routine has an ending so that their small body can start to welcome sleep. Encourage them with the thoughts of what we might look forward to tomorrow and take it from there.
Above all, have a most wonderful Christmas time with your loved ones and I look forward to encouraging a rested New Year.