As we hurtle towards the pinnacle of the festive season, parents are already telling me that bedtimes are becoming blighted by seemingly endless questions about how Santa will know which presents to deliver and what is the best food to leave out for his reindeer. With the excitement seeming to ramp up daily, not to mention some little ones approaching the end of a long first-term at school, it’s no wonder that sleep is starting to slide in some households.
For parents who have a niggling fear that Christmas is going to permanently break their child’s sleep – and especially those who have already resorted to threatening that Santa won’t be calling by on Monday night (and then instantly regretted it when faced with not just an awake child but one that is also dramatically wailing!), here are my top tips for Christmas sleep success.
1. Trust your knowledge of your child
Some little ones naturally have more flex than others in terms of how far they can deviate from sleep-business-as-usual before the wheels start to come off. You are the expert in your child and best-placed to know whether something it too early, too late or too busy. Even if friends and relatives with similar-aged children are happy to push their little one’s sleep tank further into the red, if your gut-feel is that it’s likely to be too much for your own child that instinct will almost certainly be right.
2. 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 mealtimes 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!
3. Maintain a calm wind-down to bedtime
Whatever happens during the day, ensure there is enough time to run through your usual bedtime routine in full. Little ones crave consistency and a missing step or two can be a real blocker to a child winding down for sleep. Keep a clear distinction between the excitement of the daytime environment and the calm oasis of the bedroom by ensuring that new toys are not brought up at bedtime. Once you have departed for the start of the bedtime routine, do not return your child to the daytime rooms under any circumstances!
4. Keep an eye on the sugar
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.
5. 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, 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.
Lauren is a child sleep consultant and founder of Little Sleep Stars. A former tired mama herself, Lauren uses gentle and holistic approaches to help families find their way back to sleep without the process being an ordeal for parent or child. To book a free 15 minute call with Lauren, visit www.littlesleepstars.com