With the big day just over a fortnight away, I’ve been receiving lots of questions from parents about how best to manage their little ones’ sleep over Christmas.
If you are facing sleep challenges in your family, the thought of late nights, long car journeys or family visits may be filling you with apprehension. The aim of course is for the whole family to have much fun as possible, whilst hopefully making use of a few tips and tricks along the way so that everyone stays well rested during the excitement.
Anticipate the potential impact of Christmas Eve excitement on sleep
If Christmas Eve is my favourite night of the year as a full grown adult, I can well imagine (and remember) what it is like to be a child waiting for Santa to arrive! Understandably, it might be hard for your child to sleep on Christmas Eve. Here are a few tips to get you through: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
- plan an outdoor activity, whatever the weather. Get them outside on Christmas Eve, and do it whatever the weather! Fresh air and natural light helps regulate the body clock and exercise burns off excess energy. Time spent outside will help make sure they are actually tired at bedtime!
- avoid a screen time overdose before bedtime. Blue light from screens inhibits our friend melatonin, the sleep hormone that works its magic in the early evening. We really don’t want to be messing with melatonin on Christmas Eve when we need all the help we can get! To give it a helping hand, turn off the TV and stash other devices away for at least an hour before starting the bedtime routine. You could use the time for a board game or similar activity that everyone can enjoy;
- remind them that Santa only comes when they are asleep! (It’s an oldie, but a goodie!); and
- get an early night yourself if you can… you might be up early in the morning! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Plan ahead to minimise the disruption caused by late nights
You may have a few exciting events in the calendar, and life is too short not to relax and enjoy those experiences for what they are. Your little one may be a little overtired if they go to bed late, or perhaps they might become too excited to sleep well… the trick is to remember this really isn’t the end of the world and you can get back on track. This is where your social calendar organisation skills come in. One good tactic can be to space big social events so that you have a “rest” day between. You can use the rest day to chill at home and spend good quality family time together. If your little one needs to catch up on some sleep then this can provide the perfect opportunity.
Consider the timing of long car journeys
Lots of you are planning long journeys over the Christmas break. This can definitely be one of the more challenging aspects of Christmas adventures!
If you know you will be travelling back home after bedtime, it can pay to plan ahead. Even if you are only going somewhere for the day, think about taking your little one’s pyjamas, comforter, toothbrush and any other mobile sleep anchors with you. Change them into their pyjamas before the journey home, and if they fall asleep in the car you could try to exercise your ninja skills to transfer them to bed without waking them up…!
In seriousness, this might not be possible, so a good plan for the super organised could be to plan your arrival home to coincide with a bedtime feed, so when they wake you can treat it as a nighttime wake up and then put them back to bed afterwards as normal.
Focus on the daily rhythm rather than the daily routine
Some of you have asked what to do when your trusty routine goes out of the window at Christmas time, for example due to travel, parties, family visits or outings.
My suggestion would be to think of your day not as falling into a routine, but into a rhythm. A routine dictates timings, and timings can change at the best of times, for example if you get stuck in traffic and lunch is delayed by 20 minutes, or if your baby sleeps half an hour later one morning so takes a later nap.
On the other hand, the rhythm to your day doesn’t need to fundamentally change, even during the busy Christmas period. If you are able to maintain your little one’s rhythms, for example around meal and nap times, this may make for a smoother day, whatever you’re up to. For example, if your little one is used to having a feed, cuddle and a song before a nap, you can maintain this rhythm even during a day of festive adventures. Try to think about WHAT you’re doing, without putting yourself under too much pressure about WHEN you’re doing it.
Consider the benefits of babywearing during visits to friends and family
You might have a new little person to introduce to the extended family this Christmas. If so, this is a really special and exciting time for everyone. Your relatives may be understandably keen to spend lots of time cuddling and making a general fuss of your baby. This can be lovely but depending on how old your baby is, she may find all the excitement a little overstimulating. A good way to ensure she gets the rest she needs is to baby wear, if you can. With your baby close to you in a sling or carrier, she will feel secure and relaxed. This may mean she finds it easier to go to sleep, despite the environment being potentially busier than usual. Babywearing can also be useful way to delicately keep your baby close if you think she has had enough of being cuddled by enthusiastic relatives.
If you don’t have a sling, consider paying a visit to a local sling library to try on a few. Some libraries let you rent slings for next to nothing, so you could even have a sling test drive if you want.
Think carefully before tackling sleep changes over the festive period
Some families are lucky enough to have a couple of weeks off to spend together over Christmas. If sleep is tricky anyway, the temptation might be to use the Christmas break to really focus on tackling your family’s sleep challenges.
I would urge you to think carefully about whether this is the right time to tackle sleep. If you are going to be at home, spending quiet family time together over Christmas and aren’t planning trips away or visits from family, then I can see why it might be appealing to tackle a difficult sleep situation when you don’t have the pressure of getting out of the house early for work the next day. On the other hand, if you know you will be out of your normal routine and unable to be consistent, then I would suggest holding off until the New Year. The kindest way to make sleep changes is to do so gently and consistently. If a change in your routine, rhythm or whereabouts could interfere with this, try holding out for January. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The good news is that if both parents are at home for a good chunk of time over the Christmas period, you will hopefully be able to look after each other and catch up on rest. If you are spending time with extended family or friends, don’t be afraid to accept offers of childcare either!