Christmas is one of the most exciting days of the year for children. With the thought of Santa visiting and lots of presents to open in the morning, it’s no wonder it can be tricky to get them to sleep on Christmas Eve.
But if you have last-minute wrapping to do and stockings to lay out, sending the kids to the land of nod will be top of your priority list.
Colin Espie, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford and co-founder of digital health company, Big Health, has five tips to help get your children to sleep on 24th December.
Espie told HuffPost UK Parents: “Getting young children into their beds and staying there can challenge parents at the best of times, let alone the night before Christmas. From leaving a carrot for the reindeers, to late night carol singing, there are lots of good reasons that bedtime routines fall into disarray.”
1. Be active during the day.
“There is plenty of evidence that regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night,” Professor Espie said.
“One study found that every hour a child spends inactive adds three minutes to the time taken to nod off.”
Researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and the University of Auckland in New Zealand analysed the factors affecting children’s sleep habits and found exercise played an important role.
The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, involved 519 children born in 1996 and 1997, and followed up when they were seven.
The children who took part in more vigorous exercise fell asleep faster and those with sedentary lifestyles took longer to fall asleep.
Espie advised: “Take a break from Christmas movies and head to the park to help expend excess energy before bedtime.”
2. Stick to bedtime routines and rituals.
“A consistent bedtime routine, or a set of specific ‘rituals’ before lights out,will signal that it’s time to sleep,” said Professor Espie.
“If you’re staying away from home, find ways to recreate parts of the routine, even if they are happening later than usual.
“Preparing for bed in the same order each night (such as bath, brushing teeth, stories, goodnight hug), will help with readiness for sleep, wherever you are.
“Even a few days of a consistent schedule should help your child settle into a new location. Bringing familiar bedding, toys and books will help them to relax and feel secure away from home.”
3. Act before your child gets overtired.
Professor Espie said young children are often reluctant to admit they are tired – even more so when they’re looking forward to shiny new toys when they wake up.
He said: “Look for signs of sleepiness before your child starts to get overtired, which is often the driver for ‘hyper’ behaviour.
“Try to start the bedtime routine at a consistent time. If they really don’t feel tired, they can play quietly in their bed or crib with the lights low.
“If you notice that your child is often overtired at night, experiment by shifting the whole bedtime routine forward by 15 to 30 minutes.”
4. Give plenty of notice.
“Give plenty of notice when bedtime is coming up, and then stick to what you’ve said,” advises Espie.
“‘In 10 minutes the cartoon will end and it’ll be bath time, and then we’ll have time for two books’.
“A timer which rings when playtime runs out could be a useful ‘independent’ signal that it’s time for bed.
“If your child refuses to stay in bed, try to avoid giving extra attention for bad behaviour. Be as neutral and uninterested as you can as you return your child to bed, even if you have to do this a few times.
“Consistency is key – even at Christmas – to help the whole family sleep well.”
5. And if all else fails…
“With a house full of guests, your child may understandably feel as though they are missing out on all the excitement by going up to bed,” added Espie.
“If you’ve followed the tips above and still have a stubborn and weary young one hanging onto the bannisters in protest, the suggestion that Father Christmas only leaves presents for children who are asleep might just be enough incentive to encourage lights out.”