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How to get your kids to sleep this Christmas Eve

Bedtime routines often go out of the window in school holidays, with the excitement of Christmas Eve one of the most challenging nights of the year. Here is my five step plan to make sure your children get their quota of sleep, or as close to it as possible, so that they wake up refreshed on the big day itself.

1. Think ahead

Agree a plan for the family with all the logistics especially if you have new sleeping arrangements which don’t normally involve sharing rooms, or strange beds and new bedrooms. Talk to your children about the plan for the whole day of Christmas Eve, involve them and get the ‘buy in’ from older children to agreed bed and wake times. I always prefer to go into the details so the whole family has chance to get their ideas in and fully agree to the plan. The ‘evening plan’ can include all the normal bedtime routines and rituals with a few Christmas Twists to keep the positive Christmas. The key to the plan is to have an energetic morning, a slower afternoon and an engaging but calm evening.

2. Christmas Eve Morning.

After breakfast get the family outside into the fresh air and light as quickly as you can. Have a long walk, do some exercise together or play sport to burn off all their energy. This will help them to get to sleep more easily later that night and to have a deeper night’s sleep

You will often find with the excitement your children will be awake early. Go with the flow, and get up early with them as this helps to set everyone’s body clock to start earlier in preparation for Christmas day and will also give your children longer to tire themselves out during the day.

3. Christmas Eve Afternoon.

I like to get any big action movies, loud music, and boisterous games out of the way in the afternoon as they are naturally adrenalizing rather than sleep-conducive. Also get your children to agree to stop sweets by late afternoon too. This means that the evening can be more relaxing and free from sugar loads which can keep them awake later into night. Tell anyone visiting and relatives the curfew so that they don’t offer treats in the evening. If you allow older children caffeinated drinks (Pepsi and Coke etc) I would always suggest these are stopped at lunchtime every day of the year.

4. Christmas Eve Evening.

Keep your usual routine in place as much as possible. A good sleep routine starts with a device deadline of at least one hour and preferably two hours before bedtime (including TV and all computer games) as the blue light emitted from devices confuses the body clock and makes it harder to fall asleep. Organise something fun to do instead like a card or family board game.  Give children plenty of notice that bedtime is coming with a countdown from 30, 20 and 10 minutes to the agreed bedtime. Keep the stimuli as low as possible, which may be difficult on Christmas Eve, which is why slotting the usual routine of bath, teeth, and story is so useful on Christmas Eve as your child’s brain will lock into the association with sleep. If you think it’s going to take them longer to get to sleep, get them into bed ½ hour earlier to allow for the additional excitement.

I always find one of the biggest challenges in bedtime with young children the transition phase when you are getting out of the room and they want you to keep coming back for more hugs and contact. This can be even harder when Santa is coming too. A friend who was dealing with this issue has recently pointed me to Moshi Twilight. The app cleverly combines sleep stories with relaxing music and soundscapes to aid your child to drift off to sleep. The audio has been carefully designed to slow down in rhythm to naturally induce sleep. You can leave the bedroom and get on with the last-minute wrapping. There is even a special Christmas story to make Christmas Eve story time extra special, which can incentivise them to go to bed on time on Christmas Eve.

5. Christmas one-offs

If you are away try to make the bedtime routine as familiar as possible, bringing cuddly toys, and even bedding and their favourite pillow to make your child feel secure and ‘at home’.

Along with putting Santa’s tray out and the reindeer’s carrot as a way to start the Christmas Eve Bedtime routine, you can always add; ‘”Santa always comes with lots of presents for children who get to sleep on time on Christmas Eve’’ as a final incentive. You could even give them one present early with a note from Santa telling them to make sure they get to sleep quickly so he can bring the rest of their presents.

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