So, Christmas Day is soon to arrive and children across the UK are starting to buzz with excitement. As magical as this time may be, it does leave many parents in the UK dreading the prospect of trying to get their kids to sleep before Santa makes an appearance.
To help make things easier, here are five top tips for getting kids to sleep from Professor Colin Espie, a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford and co-founder of Big Health, a digital health company.
1. Keep active during the day
There is now lots of evidence that regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep right through the night. An Australian study has even found that for every hour a child spends inactive it adds three minutes to the time it takes them to fall asleep. So if you want to help them drift off, take a break from Christmas movies and head to the park to help burn off some of that excess energy before bedtime.
2. Stick to bedtime routines and rituals
Consistent bedtime routines and other specific ‘rituals’ before bedtime will send the signal that it’s time to sleep. Even if you’re staying away from home over Christmas, look for ways to recreate or stick to parts of your usual routine. Preparing for bed in the same way each night (perhaps having a bath, brushing teeth, and then reading stories), will help get your child ready for sleep no matter where 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 won’t admit that they’re tired – especially if the alternative is staying up for more family fun. Stay alert to signs of sleepiness before your child begins to get overtired, which is often what leads to ‘hyper’ behaviour. If possible, try to start the bedtime routine at a consistent time. If they really aren’t tired yet, children can play quietly in their bed or crib with the lights low. If you notice that your child is regularly overtired at night, experiment with shifting their bedtime routine forward by 15-30 minutes.
4. Give them plenty of notice
Remember to give plenty of notice when bedtime is approaching, and then stick to whatever you say: “In 5 minutes the cartoon will end and it’ll be bath time, and then we’ll have time to read a book.”
A timer can be a useful ‘independent’ signal that it’s time to get ready for bed. If your child is refusing to stay in bed, avoid giving them any extra attention. Be as neutral and uninterested as you can when returning your child to bed, even if you have to do this a few times. Consistency is key to help the whole family sleep well.
5. And if all else fails…
If you’ve got a house full of guests, your child may understandably feel as though they are missing out by going up to bed before everyone else. If you’ve followed the tips above and still have stubborn young one clinging to 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.