We know little ones can get very excited in the run up to Christmas – here’s how to make sure they actually sleep the night before the big day
From leaving midnight snacks out for Santa and his reindeer to late-night carol singing, there are lots of reasons why bedtime routines might fall into disarray on Christmas Eve. Getting children to go to bed (and stay there) can be challenging at the best of times, without all the excitement of the following day. With that in mind, sleep expert and co-founder of Sleepio, professor Colin Espie from the University of Oxford, shares his tips for getting the little ones off to sleep before Santa arrives.
1. Be active during the day
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night, and for children that is no exception. “One Australian study found that every hour a child spends inactive adds three minutes to the time taken to nod off,” says Espie. “Take a break from Christmas movies and head to the park to help expend excess energy in good time before bed.”
2. Stick to bedtime routines and rituals
A consistent bedtime routine before lights out will signal that it’s time to go to sleep: “If you’re staying away from home, find ways to recreate parts of the routine, even if they are happening later than usual,” says Espie. “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. Bringing familiar bedding, toys and books will help them relax and feel secure away from home.”
3. Act before they get overtired
Young children are often reluctant to admit they are tired – even more so when the alternative to bed is playing with shiny new toys. “Look for signs of sleepiness before your child starts to be overtired, which is often the driver for ‘hyper’ behaviour,” says Espie. “Try to start the bedtime routine at a consistent time. If they really don’t feel tired, they can play quietly in their bed with the lights low. If you notice your child is often overtired at night, experiment by shifting the whole bedtime routine forward by 15-30 minutes.”
4. Give plenty of notice
Let them know in advance when bedtime is coming up – then stick to what you’ve said, for example, ‘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 signal that it’s time for bed, too.
“If your child refuses to stay in bed, try to avoid giving extra attention for bad behaviour,” says Espie. “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…blame Santa
“With a house full of guests, your little one may understandably feel as though they are missing out on all the excitement by going to bed. If you still find you 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 of an incentive to encourage lights-out. At least that’s what the elves told me…”