Christmas is filled with lights, sounds and excitement. And that’s before you have even added in the promise of Santa, and reindeers and presents. It’s no wonder that children often struggle to fall and stay asleep during the festive period – particularly if they already struggled with sleep before the added sparkle and glitter.
As a parent of a child who struggles with sleep, it’s so hard to remain calm when you are battling your over-excited, over-tired child to bed each night, only for them to wake every few hours through the night. And the early mornings – ugh – don’t even mention the 5am starts. The situation only gets worse as you then become anxious about all the extra Christmas tasks you must complete, and stress levels in the house start to soar (which makes sleep even harder to achieve).
So to help your family enjoy a few more ‘silent nights’ in the run up to Christmas, here are my 5 tips for better festive sleep.
Don’t forget to also look out for my top tips for Christmas Eve sleep too.
1) Bedroom environment
Even though the world seems to have been dipped in glitter and fairy lights, try to keep your child’s bedroom or sleep space a calm environment for sleep. Leave the decorations, advent calendars and trees for other rooms in the house and make sure that the bedroom is not too stimulating or exciting. A calmer space will help them to settle down to sleep much more easily.
Make sure that the room is dark, comfortable and the right temperature for sleep. Think about your child’s curtains, mattress, bed coverings, pyjamas – are they all comfortable for sleep in the cold winter nights? Are there lights, cot mobiles, music or lullabies stimulating them further? Try to create a space when your child can calm down and snuggle off to sleep without distraction.
2) Be active, get outdoors
During the daytime take the opportunity to wrap up warm and head outdoors. Go for a walk, visit the park or an outdoor space and let them explore.
The physical activity will provide an outlet for their building excitement and help to increase their sleep pressure. The fresh air and exposure to daylight will help to regulate their body clocks (or circadian rhythm).
Try walking, running, hoping or climbing. Just try to make sure that it’s not too close to bedtime as the physical stimulation could make it difficult to calm down to sleep.
During December we often bend our normal rules and schedules to make room for all of the exciting things that we want to do. Staying up late for a pantomime, getting up early to see what the Elves have done, watching Christmas films on TV just before bedtime… we are all guilty of it and it’s part of the magic of Christmas. But in all this festive whirlwind, try to maintain a little balance and normality for your child too.
Your trusty bedtime routine provides the familiarity that your child needs, and acts as a cue to their little body that it is time to settle down to sleep. Even if you are away on holiday, staying at a relative’s house, or have extra guests in your own home – you should try to maintain the same bedtime steps in the same order, to help your child wind down for sleep.
4) The right foods
We all tend to eat far more sugar and sweet treats than we normally would in the festive season. If your little one has too many treats before bedtime, they will feel a sugar rush that will make it more difficult to get them to sleep, followed by an energy crash that will cause them to wake more frequently during the night.
For good quality sleep we all need a balance of the sleep hormones Serotonin and Melatonin, which can be boosted by eating the correct types of foods.
Try chicken, cheese, tuna, eggs, nuts or milk to boost Serotonin levels. And for Melatonin try cherries, apricots or raisins. Other good choices are bananas and oranges which are high in potassium.
Don’t forget that your Christmas turkey is packed with tryptophan, an amino acid which promotes the production of the sleep hormone Serotonin, it stabilises blood sugar and can induce sleepiness. So that’s another reason why people often feel sleepy after Christmas dinner!
5) Watch out for over tiredness
Nativity plays, Christmas parties, meeting friends, and visits to see Santa. The list of activities seems never ending and it can very quickly take its toll on your child’s energy reserves.
If your child becomes over tired they might be more difficult to put to bed, more likely to wake in the night, and even start waking up earlier in the morning too. All of which makes them even more tried, and the cycle continues.
Be aware of how much you are asking your child to take part in and look out for signs of over tiredness. Plan in some earlier nights and top up naps (if they have them) or extra quiet time. If you enter Christmas with an over tired child, Christmas Eve could be even more difficult to tackle, so be mindful during the build up and start Christmas the right way.
And don’t forget to read my special tips for helping your child to sleep on Christmas Eve, coming very soon!
Wishing you and your family a wonderfully happy, magical and restful Christmas
Rachael, The Sleep Sanctuary
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The Sleep Sanctuary is an online child sleep consultancy helping your family to enjoy better sleep and live healthier, happier lives