Sleep strategies for the festive season
If you're worried about getting little ones to sleep as is, and you're dreading what disruptions Christmas might bring, sleep expert Lucy Wolfe has some suggestions
Festive plans can have a disruptive influence on our young children's sleeping patterns. Overnight visits to family and friends, later than usual bedtimes, missed naps for parties and irregular eating can all have a negative impact where sleep is concerned. It can often be difficult to maintain good sleep habits over the Christmas period; meaning that you need to make some important decisions about which parties you will attend, how late you stay and what you can do about your child's sleep if you are travelling over the festive season.
To really ensure that everything is enjoyed to the maximum, it's important that in the run-up to the holiday season, you have a regular feeding and sleeping balance that includes age-relevant nap and bedtimes.
Keep in mind that the more rested child will be much more adaptable to changes in circumstances than one who is always coping on less or frequently disturbed sleep.
Staying away from home
• If you will be visiting overnight during this time, try to make sure that you maintain your typical bedtime as much as possible. Becoming overtired can cause an unwanted resistance to sleep.
• If your child has their own room at home, it would be great if this could be replicated away from home. Of course, that is not always possible, so if you are room sharing when you don't normally, move the cot or bed far away from the family bed in an effort to minimise possible disruption.
• Bring familiar items from home, such as the bedding and sleepwear. If you use lullabies, music or white noise at home, you will need to remember to bring this with you
• Don't forget to pack their security item that they associate with sleep or you may find that your child won't settle without it.
• During the day, take some time to acclimatise your child to the room that they will be staying in. If possible, spend up to 30 minutes per day in the room during non-sleep time.
• If you are using an unfamiliar cot, then allocate some play time in the cot ahead of sleep time.
• You may find that your child is initially unsettled at bedtime in the different environment. Provide plenty of reassurance and encouragement, add extra time to your normal bedtime routine and even consider staying with them until they get relaxed for sleep, but try not to do this every night, otherwise, if you don't normally stay, then you may find when you get home that expectations have changed, and this can sometimes expose you to sleep difficulties overnight.
• If you will be driving long distances try to ensure that you preserve sleep as much as possible. It can be a good idea to plan your journey to coincide with their nap.
• If your journey is long, then plan to make stops on the way to break the trip and keep your child from becoming bored and irritable.
• Many parents plan their journey at night and arrive at the destination with their children asleep in the car. If you do this, then make sure that on arrival you put your child to bed immediately, even if they appear wakeful. Repeat your bedtime routine and avoid disrupting their body clock by having them awake at night when they wouldn't normally be.
Changes in daily routine
• Make informed decisions about staying up late: this one will depend on your child's temperament and how well they cope with a change in schedule and potential loss of sleep. Parents of children who manage well can sail through this much easier than those with a child who becomes fussy and cranky due to lack of sleep. Lost sleep often means frequent night-time waking and early rising, so beware!
• If you have a late night, resist the urge to allow your child to sleep in as this may make for an unsettled child for naps and bedtime the next day. Try to wake up by 7.30am to maintain the day's timetable. Instead of sleeping in, bring forward the nap time and allow a longer duration for the nap.
• Avoid too may late nights in a row, the aftermath may take many weeks to correct and the fun of the festivities may be a distant memory while sleep issues may linger.
• Try to have grandparents, uncles, aunties and friends understand why you are prioritising your child's sleep health and get them involved in the bedtime and nap routines so that they can feel part of the process.
While maintaining your typical schedule and putting sleep first may mean missing out of some of the festivities, the sacrifice will be worth it. I encourage parents to make the most of every situation, of course - many naps can be in the car, in the buggy and in some instances even missed.
As soon as you get back home to normality, try to get back on track. Having a super-early bedtime for a few days and earlier, adjusted nap times will all help a sleep recovery phase. Above all, enjoy this time and have a great Christmas.
Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep-consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie; telephone 087 2683 584 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org