A Parent’s Christmas Toolkit for Children’s Sleep by Ann Caird

The festive season is approaching and preparations are underway in many households! Excitement mounts as anticipation of the big day snowballs…

Nativity plays, parties, Christmas shopping, gifts to wrap, decorations and baking! With all the extra excitement toddlers and young children can easily become over tired, over stimulated and find falling asleep difficult. So here are some practical tips to help maintain balance and good sleep for young children during this busy time, and that will also help keep parents feel calmer over the holidays!

Tip 1: Protect and maintain your bedtime routine; this can be tough! When there’s so much to do and with Christmas visitors and parties routines can go out the window!, However, do your best to preserve the bedtime routine because it’s your child’s familiar wind down of predictable steps to sleep time which will help them prepare their minds and bodies for sleep. From the emotional wellbeing point of view, providing that quiet, calm closeness provides vital connection time that will support your child’s feeling of safety, reassurance and calmness that supports restful sleep.

Tip 2: Remember to use the nap time routine; if our child still naps, do your best to preserve the nap wind down routine too. It often helps to extend the nap routine by 5-10 minutes if here’s been alot of change or excitement, just to give just a little more time to calm the system and prepare for letting go into sleep. If you haven’t used a nap routine until now, its worth considering one; generally I suggest using the same set of cues as bedtime – a darkened room, comfy sleep clothes, a story, lullaby, kisses…. and sleep wells… before finally settling into bed or cot.

Tip 3: Keep consistent wake-ups and bedtimes – weekends and holidays too! As difficult as this may sound – it can really help to keep sleep consistently good! Children’s sleep is regulated y 2 main sleep processes, the biological clock and homeostatic sleep pressure. The biological clock is set to expect sleep at certain times during the 24 hour day, and sleep pressure builds to support the biological sleep times. However, if wake ups are too late, sleep pressure will be out of sync with the biological clock and falling into sleep may become problematic. A good example is jetlag, if we allow children to sleep in an extra hour (assuming they are well and healthy of course) their biological clock will be an hour out of sync. Sticking to a consistent daily sleep routine is good for adults too!

Tip 4: Maximise the impact of light and dark; when you and your children wake in the morning, make sure the lights go on too. Our biological clocks respond to light and dark cues; light switches off the melatonin (sleepy hormone) flow and turns on the cortisol – prompting our bodies to wake and be active. Sleep pressure then begins to build towards our next sleep time, and reducing lighting for the bedtime routine triggers the sleep hormone melatonin that supports relaxation and sleep. Outdoor activity and playtime in the fresh air every day not only supports the biological clock and daily rhythms, but also helps young children release tension and prepares growing bodies for sleep!

Tip 5: Avoid screens before bedtime! Televisions, computers, ipads…. great ways to calm a child down, or maybe not! Many devices use LED lights which can hinder sleep.LED lights emit blue light which prevents melatonin – the sleep hormone secreting. The blue light ‘tricks’ the brain into thinking its still daytime, even when its past bedtime! So, after tea I suggest turning off the TV, avoiding screens – and engaging in some connection playtime, before moving into the bedtime routine. See my article about Calm Bedtimes for more about the value of play before bedtime.

Tip 6: Be aware of how food may influence sleep; Christmas = rich food and indulgence! Its important to keep in mind though that some foods will hinder children’s sleep; processed and sweet food can stimulate young children and rich, fatty foods may cause digestive difficulties and disturbances. So with that in mind, do your best to ration processed, sweet and rich foods as much as you can. Also keep in mind that there are some foods that support sleep. Sleep inducing foods include healthy carbohydrates and foods containing calcium and tryptophan – so good sleepy food options include eggs, wholemeal toast, whole grain cereal, milk, bananas, pitta breads… and.. TURKEY!!!

Tip 7: On a practical level – Think about using white noise: This is just brilliant for masking all those unusual festive noises… whether they are parties next door, friends in for drinks, reindeers on the roof, sleigh bells and Santa coming down the chimney! It’s easy to phase in – and easy to phase out. I suggest using a natural sound, like rain or running water. Phase it in over a few days, playing it at low volume in the background during your bedtime routine and during the night and naps, then gradually increase the volume to about as loud as a human voice or soft shower so it masks and softens external sounds. Phase it out in the same way – reduce the volume night by night over a fews or week.

Tip 8: Keep the bedroom peaceful; avoid putting exciting new toys in the bedroom… keep it calm, balanced without added stimulation. Bedroom play is great, I often suggest this for young children because it can support sleep, but keep the Christmas excitement away from the bedroom.

And what about parents? Well, my final tip is that parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents… follow the same festive sleep tips as those for the children!
In a nutshell:

• Consistent sleep and wake times and get some outdoor activity every day.

• Turn off TVs and screens a couple of hours before your bedtime – read a book or potter or write a list instead:

• If you have a lot on your mind – write it down before bedtime! Make a list of all the little things you may forget so you don’t lay wake thinking about them – then keep the list by the bed so that if you do wake up thinking about Auntie Sally’s present – you can write it down and stop dwelling on it!

• Allow your body to wind down for sleep – a relaxing bath or shower, book to read… a healthy bedtime snack;

• When you finally get into bed – relax!! Let your mind and body relax; See these 3 mindfulness meditations to support sleep from the Chopra centre, and focus in on each muscle group ad consciously relax your muscles… feeling the release and calmness in your body as you Let-go…

Three meditations to help you calm your mind and help you fall asleep The Chopra Centre.

Ann Caird © 2015

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to inform and not for medical diagnoses or treatment, this article does not replace medical advise. Please contact a health care professional if you have concerns about your child’s health.

 Ann Caird

Ann Caird

About the Author

Ann Caird is the founder of Nurturing Sleep, a holistic baby and child sleep consultancy. She has 30 years experience working with families, babies and young children in various roles including early childhood practitioner, postnatal doula, Happiest Baby Educator, and baby and child sleep consultant. She has 2 sleep certifications, as well as a BA (Distinction) in Child and Youth Studies and various childcare qualifications.

The main focus of Ann’s sleep work is the Emotional Wellbeing of babies, children and parents in relation to sleep. Her holistic approach respects the child’s feelings and emotions around sleep, and her goal is for babies and young children feel emotionally safe, happy and reassured in relation to sleep.

Ann has developed the Emotional Wellbeing foundation for baby and child sleep and now teaches and mentors sleep consultants internationally. Ann works with families with babies and young children up to the age of 5 years.