‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house… plenty of children were stirring, way too excited to sleep!
At my house, we currently have a nightly rendition of We Wish You A Merry Christmas on a loop from my toddler son, and it’s not Christmas Eve yet.*
On December 24, there’ll be three under-fives at the grandparents’ house. After hanging out stockings and leaving out carrots and a mince pie, there will, no doubt, be more carol singing to squeeze into the usual bedtime routine.
If this sounds familiar, whether they’re your own kids or your grandchildren, you might benefit from the advice of Professor Colin Espie, University of Oxford sleep expert and co-founder of digital sleep improvement programme Sleepio.
Here are his five top tips to get kids off to sleep before Santa stops by:
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. One Australian study found that every hour a child spends inactive adds three minutes to the time taken to nod off. 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. 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
Young children are often reluctant to admit that they're 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 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 15-30 minutes.
4. Give plenty of notice
Give plenty of notice when bedtime is coming up, and then stick to what you’ve said: “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. 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. At least, that’s what the elves told me…