While the Winter Holidays are dear to our hearts, they can be a problematic time for sleep and stress.
Between travel, large gatherings, late bedtimes and lack of routine, it’s highly likely your sleep – or your child’s – will be compromised.
And…, that’s okay! Sometimes life get’s in the way of ideal sleep habits. Trust that you’ll get back on track when the new year rolls around and your family is back to routine.
Here are my essential Do’s & Don’ts for every age so you can get the best rest possible this holiday season.
If you’ve got a kiddo under the age of 18 months its likely that over-tiredness will become a reality at some point over the holidays, especially if you travel away from home. Some families are surprised to learn that one late bedtime combined with a short nap can cause night wakings and then a sleep-snowball affect due to lack of sleep.
Do make sure to get kiddos to bed a full hour early if you sense they may be tired due to missing a nap or getting to bed late several days in a row.
Don’t overbook and plan too many late nights in a row. Very quickly, those late nights will add up, and your little one could end up fussy, tired, or even over-stimulated and inconsolable.
Toddlers LOVE the holidays!!!! Maybe a little too much…? All the shiny decorations, presents, twinkly lights, sleigh rides, songs, cookies, cocoa and visitors is enough to send a toddler’s Fun-O-Meter over the top, making bedtimes uncooperative.
Do maintain your normal bedtime routine. For this age it’s often better for them to go to bed late than to skip on their nightly routine that cues the brain sleep is coming. Provide your kiddo with a quiet, calm transition to sleep so that they can actually rest in the midst of all the excitement. You may even consider adding a massage or foot rub after lights out just to help them tune-in and “listen” to their bodies.
Don’t overbook your evenings. Instead plan fun morning outings and keep most evenings clear of over-stimulating activities so that your little one can eat without distraction and avoid overwhelm. Many clients complain of rough bedtimes and then realize that their child was too distracted to eat with all the festivities or found it hard to settle down after pictures with Santa at 6pm.
Once kiddos are in school they become creatures of habit and thrive on routine and predictability, which can cause moodiness, tantrums or challenging bedtimes during long breaks from routine.
Do set up a lose version of their school schedule each day. Have them help you plan it and write it down somewhere that they can see it. Let them know that it will be flexible, but in general they can count on similar routines. It might look something like this:
Breakfast, then Welcome Circle – talk about the day and read a book together Optional activity/outing.
Lunch, then Choice time – lay out choices for independent activities (lego, beading, blocks, etc), maybe and afternoon activity/outing.
Dinner, then Family time Bedtime Routine Lights out.
Don’t arrange late night activities every night. Sleepovers and movie nights are fun, but they take a toll on overall sleep and it may mean that the holidays are less enjoyable because your kiddo’s body and mind are exhausted. Occasionally pushing bedtimes is okay, but I like to think of holidays as a time get kids to bed early most nights and catch up on sleep before school starts back up again. Bonus: this means MORE time in the evening for your favorite adult holiday activities!
It’s really tempting to wake teens up at 8am on non-school days out of a fear that they will turn into ‘good for nothing’ puddles of goo. Hold that thought!!
Remember that teens and young adults have body-clocks that don’t typically calm until later in the evening, between 10pm – 1am. When combined with a 6 am alarm Monday thru Friday, this means that they could be missing out on significant sleep during the week which can affect productivity, cognitive function, athletic ability, school attendance, anxiety, and general mood.
Do let your teen sleep in as long as they want to the first few days of break if they can.
Encourage them to think of it as an experiment: notice your body and how tired it is in the first few mornings. After several days of getting 8-10 hours of sleep each night they may begin to wake up feeling more rested and ready at 8 or 9am. If that’s the case, you may need to have a discussion about sleep hygiene and make a plan for how to get adequate sleep each week by using naps or sleeping in on weekends.
Don’t shame them about sleeping until noon. Get curious if you feel they cannot ever seem to get out of bed (it could be a sign of health problems or depression). Know that a few days of 12 hours of sleep is completely normal for a teen who is catching up on sleep debt.
Holidays are disruptive for most adults because of all the extras we pack in to this festive, but overwhelming, time of year.
Do consider the mental and emotional toll that extra planning, preparation and clean-up takes due to the holidays.
Delegate carefully, and don’t sign on for more than you can handle. You’re often connecting with friends and family more which stimulates your heart and mind in ways that are alerting for your brain.
For some, the season may be less than joyous and peaceful as families coming together may involve extra drama, stress, or even childhood trauma. Be aware of this and limit time with those who disrupt your health and happiness, that may be the best self-care you can offer yourself (and your family) during the holidays.
Don’t drink too much alcohol. Studies show that drinking too much, or drinking right before bed can disrupt your sleep cycles and cause middle of the night wakings when your body alerts you that it’s in distress at 3 am from dehydration and detoxification. Feel free to enjoy your hot buttered rum, but make sure to drink plenty of other fluids, eat well, and give your body several hours to detox before going to sleep.