Newswise — While it can be difficult during the year for children to get the proper amount of sleep, the holidays pose even greater challenges for parents who must juggle seasonal excitement and overtired kids.
Saint Joseph’s University sleep expert Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., recommends that no matter what date the calendar indicates, parents need to keep their children’s bedtime hour consistent.
“As much as possible, be sure to stick to your child’s usual sleep schedule — both bedtime and nap times,” says Mindell. “Of course, there will be exceptions, such as for family holiday gatherings, but try not to make the exception more than one or two nights in a row. If there are too many days of being off schedule, you can expect meltdowns.”
The holidays are a special time, and children can get so wound up that they have trouble sleeping. Mindell emphasizes that it is important not to let kids’ high energy interfere with their rest.
“Skimping on the bedtime routine or doing your routine some place else, such as reading stories in front of the fireplace, will often backfire. It’s much more exciting than calming,” Mindell says.
To help kids calm down and get to bed on time, the best thing that parents can do is "stick with customary bedtime rituals,” says Mindell. “If every night is usually a bath and a story in bed, then do a bath and a story in bed, even on holiday nights.”
If everything works and children do get to bed on time, mornings can be the next challenge, as children may wake up quite early, eager to open gifts or celebrate other holiday festivities.
Mindell, again, advises parents to change as little as possible. “Stick with your usual morning routine,” she says. “If your child is not able to tell time yet, then use a ‘good morning’ light in the bedroom. This is simply a nightlight on a timer that is set to go off at a reasonable time, such as 6:30 or 7 a.m., which will let your child know when it’s time to get up for the festivities.”
Even if parents try their best to maintain sleep routines, holiday craziness can still get in the way.
“If your child’s schedule has completely shifted over the holidays, slowly change back starting the two to three days before life returns to usual schedules, by adjusting bedtime and wake time by 15 to 30 minutes every day,” Mindell says.
By implementing these strategies, both kids and their parents can sleep better during this holiday season, and everyone can have restful, silent nights.
Mindell is a clinical psychologist specializing in pediatric sleep medicine. She has written extensively on pediatric sleep disorders and presented over 300 papers at national and international conferences. She is the author of "Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep" (HarperCollins, 2005), and co-author of "A Clinical Guide to Pediatric Sleep: Diagnosis and Management of Sleep Problems" (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2015).