It’s the most wonderful time of the year? Hmmmm, not if your children don’t sleep well. Disruptions in your kids’ sleep schedules, combined with all of the excitement of the holidays, can make kids feel stressed, anxious and grumpy, turning them from little angels into little Grinches.
“During the holidays, as during the summer, many kids get off of their regular sleep schedule, and at holiday time, the disrupted sleep is compounded by the fact that the morning light isn’t as strong to stimulate them to get up,” says Nanci Yuan, M.D., Medical Director of the Pediatric Pulmonary Sleep Program at Stanford University School of Medicine’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “Sleeping in late can make them have trouble falling asleep at night and it can become a bad cycle that causes your child to be grouchy and to misbehave during the day.”
What can you do?
Follow the one-hour rule
During the holidays, try to make sure that your kids go to bed within one hour of their usual bedtime and get up within one hour of their usual wake time. “Ideally, if children stay on the same sleep/wake schedule on weekends, weekdays and holidays, never varying the times by more than one hour, they are likely to get enough sleep and have plenty of energy and feel good during the day,” says Dr. Yuan. “Even if your children have gone to bed late the night before, keeping their wake time consistent is important to keeping their sleep schedule on track.”
Nix the naps
Your child waited up late for Santa and by Christmas afternoon is turning into the abominable snowkid? It may be best to tough it out. “If your child has one really bad night’s sleep, and doesn’t normally nap, try not to let him nap the next day because it can interfere with his ability to fall asleep that night,” says Dr. Yuan. “If your child absolutely has to nap, make sure the nap is no more than one hour and not within three hours of his regular bedtime.”
Eating a big, rich meal can lead to stomach discomfort, making it difficult for kids to fall asleep. Best advice? Let them have their stuffing and pumpkin pie, too, but in reasonable portion sizes.
Skip the soda
Avoid serving your kids any beverages that contain caffeine, which can make them have trouble falling asleep at night. Egg nog anyone?
Whose bed is this anyway?
If your family travels during the holidays and you all are sleeping in a hotel room or at a friend’s or relative’s house, realize it may be hard for your kids to fall asleep and stay asleep. Minimize disruptions by sticking as close to your child’s normal sleep schedule as possible and allowing time for wind-down at night. “If you usually start to wind them down an hour before bedtime, do the same thing when you’re on the road, even if it means breaking away from your company to read to them or give them a bath,” says Dr. Yuan. “Bringing along a favorite blanket or other loved item may also help your child feel more comfortable sleeping in strange surroundings.”
Build in transition time
If you are traveling during the holidays, try to plan your schedule so your child wakes up in his own bed the day before his first school day back, and whether you travel or not try to make that last day before school low key and restful. After the excitement of the holidays, your child might be happy to return to the comfort and joy of his usual routine.
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Laura Flynn McCarthy is a New Hampshire-based writer who specializes in health and parenting topics.