The holidays can leave many kids so wound up that they have trouble sleeping. Between visions of sugarplums and the out-of-the-ordinary activities happening both at school and at home, energy levels are high – putting kids at risk for missing out on proper rest.
While it's (literally) all fun and games to a child, juggling an overtired kid and the usual seasonal stresses can be anything but fun for a parent.
Saint Joseph’s University sleep expert Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., emphasizes that parents need to stick with customary bedtime rituals, no matter what the date on the calendar says.
Keeping a business-as-usual approach to bedtime this time of year is important. “Skimping on the bedtime routine or doing your routine someplace else, such as reading stories in front of the fireplace, will often backfire. It’s much more exciting than calming,” Mindell says.
“If every night is usually a bath and a story in bed, then do a bath and a story in bed, even on holiday nights,” she says, adding that of course there will be exceptions for family holiday gatherings and the like. But too many off-schedule nights can lead to a tear-filled train wreck.
“Try not to make the exception more than one or two nights in a row,” says Mindell. “If there are too many days of being off schedule, you can expect meltdowns.”
If all goes according to plan and kids do get to bed on time, mornings may be the next challenge. Children may want to wake up early, eager to open gifts or celebrate other holiday festivities.
Mindell, again, advises parents to change as little as possible. “Stick with your usual morning routine,” she says. “If your child is not able to tell time yet, then use a ‘good morning’ light in the bedroom. This is simply a nightlight on a timer that is set to go off at a reasonable time, such as 6:30 or 7 a.m., which will let your child know when it’s time to get up for the festivities.”
Reseting the clock
If, try as you may, holiday craziness has still gotten the better of your child's sleep schedule, it may be time to gradually reset. Starting two or three days before life returns to usual schedules, try adjusting bedtime and wake time by 15 to 30 minutes each day.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests altering nap schedules to ease bedtime drama. “If your child isn't tired at bedtime, you might be fighting a losing battle. Try scaling back daytime naps or rousing your child earlier in the morning,” says the site.
Keeping things nice and quiet the hour before bedtime may also be sleep-inducing.
“Put away mobile devices, video games and toys. Turn off the TV and any computers. Dim the lights. Limit the entire family to quiet activities, such as reading or doing puzzles,” says the Mayo Clinic. “Sleep might be more appealing if everyone slows down before bedtime.”