How to Get Kids to Sleep on Christmas Eve
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Because, in spite of the icy temperatures and long, dark nights, a ray of joy and magic pushes its way through the gloom; one that we can all share. Christmas, solstice, New Year – no matter how we celebrate, it’s a sign of hope. The days won’t get any shorter, and the calendar’s about to start anew.
Even before Christmas Day arrives, most of us have already jumped headfirst into feasting, spending time with family and friends, watching TV shows and movies, playing games, wrapping presents – and getting to meet Father Christmas in real life.
It all builds up to Christmas Eve; one of the most exciting nights of the year for kids all over the world. And in all the excitement, countless parents end up wondering how to get kids to sleep on Christmas Eve, especially when bedtimes can be challenging on a normal day!
Let’s look at some strategies that can help you and your kids have lots of Christmassy fun, and enjoy the whole of Christmas Eve, before ending it with a calm bedtime. The key to success? Planning ahead.
Step one: make a day of it – make a plan
As it’s such an exciting day, why not make the most of it? Plan ahead for a fun-filled day and a restful night.
Start early with a festive breakfast, like cinnamon and banana oat pancakes, decorated like Santa: use some blueberries for eyes, a raspberry for his nose and some whipped cream for his beard!
Getting children engaged in the morning helps set them up for a positive day, and an exciting seasonal breakfast will get everyone in the spirit.
Then, regardless of what the weather’s like, go outdoors for a bit. Head to a favourite playground and make up some Christmas games. Or go off the beaten track, hunting for elves in the forest. Wrap up warm, get your wellies and mittens on, and go explore!
For lunch, you could stop at a nice pub, or head home and cook something warm and comforting, to recharge everyone’s batteries after a wintry walk.
The early start, fresh air and exercise don’t just help you make the most of the short daylight hours – they can help little body clocks come bedtime. Exercise and sleep are linked, in adults and in children, and when it comes to restful nights, mornings are the best time for activity. This is supported by our friends over at Little Dreams Consulting, who advise:
“On Christmas Eve, excitement will be high! To prepare for this make sure you incorporate lots of outside time during the day to burn off all that energy, not too close to bedtime though as this may cause too much adrenaline to build…”
Sugar, snacks and sleep
Nobody wants to cast a shadow over sweets and snacks at Christmas (it is a feast holiday, after all). But there’s definitely got to be a mention of how snacks and sweets impact sleep, especially when they’re as abundant as they are over the Christmas holidays.
The jury is still out on whether sugar affects children’s behaviour (the infamous “sugar high”), but the impact on sleep is known. A diet of sugary foods can cause unsettled nights and poor sleep quality. But, instead of cutting it all out (which isn’t any fun), find a balance. Have snacks and sweets earlier in the day, to metabolise all those simple sugars and turn the energy into play.
Set a cut off time for sweets and snacks, or a limit of some sort –whatever you feel is fair or works for your family. Have fun (that’s the most important bit!) but set a boundary with the snacks to promote a better night’s sleep for everyone.
Little Dreams Consulting have this to say: “...curb the sugar the closer it gets to bedtime and ensure they have some quiet time before bed – perhaps a Christmassy game or a story before preparing Father Christmas’s snack!”
And we’ll get into that for our next point: taking advantage of the shorter days for wind-down and quiet play that’s still super fun and Christmassy.
But first, in all this talk of sugar and sleeplessness, we’ve forgotten about sleepy foods – the stuff we adults know all too well (ever had the post-lunch slump?): carbs and proteins.
For little ones, there are some great choices for healthy, sleep-inducing foods to incorporate into the Christmas Eve. Check out this post from @littledreamsconsultingltd:
Step two: take advantage of the shorter days
As darkness falls, make it feel like it’s later than it really is. See out the dwindling daylight and watch something Christmassy together on the TV, under a blanket – like a big sleepover! It’ll be good to get any screen time you were planning to have in now, so you can try to limit it, and lessen the impact on sleep later on.
You can also try pulling the bedtime routines of younger children forward, to make room for stories, snuggles, and preparing for Santa and his reindeer.
Older kids won’t be fooled by the sudden rearrangement of time – but still, keep things nice and calm for everyone, maybe explaining to older children that little ones need extra help to get to sleep on Christmas Eve.
If your family does Christmas Eve boxes with pyjamas, special small gifts, stockings and stories, get these out as the sun sets. It’ll be very exciting and stimulating, and little ones will want to have a good amount of time to play and enjoy themselves without bedtime looming over them (older ones, too). Enjoy the time together as a family, and maybe reserve some activities for older children later on.
Then, get into wind down mode. As bedtime approaches, get some carrots for the reindeer, a nice big mince pie for Father Christmas, and say goodnight. It’s been a fun and extraordinary day, so sticking to a normal bedtime routine can help ease children into sleep by keeping things familiar.
Step three: stick to the routine
There’ll be a strong temptation to break routine because it’s a special day. And that’s okay – don’t worry about it if bedtime happens a little later, or if you read a couple of extra bedtime stories. But human brains love forming habits (good and bad), so breaking them can upset that balance. Keep the structure of bedtime whole as much as possible, to line up with the expectations little brains have about what comes next.
A nice warm bath can be a really big help. Make some Santa beards with the bubbles and have some laughs, keeping it nice and calm without too much stimulation.
After drying off, putting on pyjamas and getting into bed, the excitement can start to kick back in. There can also be pressure on falling asleep, knowing that Santa will only come when everyone’s sleeping in their beds.
To soothe anxious minds and calm peeking eyes, you could try having some soft music at story time and shortly after turning off the lights; just as a sensory companion that helps clear an active mind. This won’t work for all children, though. Some will find that music at any intensity or volume will be too stimulating.
Read more: How to help your child sleep in their bedroom Going away for Christmas?
Little Dreams reinforce the importance of consistency at bedtime, especially when you’re away for Christmas, with this piece of sleep advice from expert Fay: “Stay Consistent. If you are going away during the Christmas period, your little one may well test the & sleep boundaries' of their new environment.
The best way to handle this is to make sure you don't do anything different than you would have at home. If you stick to your rules, and maintain consistency, your little one should be sleeping well without too much trouble. If, however, things go ‘off track’ ensure that once you get home you go straight back to your normal routine and they should get back to normal within a few nights.”
Sometimes, your child might just need your presence in a new environment, with some calming whispers and reassurance, to help get them over into dreamland. Staying a little longer can help relieve the temptation for your child to get out of bed and peek at the presents, too!
If things don’t quite go to plan, don’t beat yourself up. Try again. If you need a minute, give yourself a break. And remember, try and keep it all positive – in a happy, safe, sleepy bedroom.
Themed bedroom designs – from Pea
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