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What is scarier, the ghouls and ghosts or the inevitable late night and sack of candy your child is going to bring home on Halloween? Halloween is such a fun, child-centered holiday. Our little ones get to be the superhero, princess or firefighter they believe they are, AND they get to knock on their neighbors’ doors and ask for candy! When you think about it, the holiday is pretty awesome and it’s no wonder kids are excited for weeks leading up to it. As a parent however we also know that these super-exciting events can mean a disruption to daily routine. How do we survive this spooky time and what does all the sugar mean for your little’s sleep?
To begin, it’s always best to approach any holiday, transition or exciting event in a well-rested state. For at least a week leading up to Halloween try your very best to get your child into bed on time in anticipation of Halloween night being later than what is ideal. The day after Halloween expect a slightly cranky child, and overtired one, and plan for an early night. While one late night is not a huge deal for a well-rested child several late nights can definitely take their toll. Similarly, for the child that is already bordering an overtired state a significantly later night can be her undoing.
Additionally, just as with many other things, your mom was right when she told you to avoid sugar before bedtime. Here’s the ugly truth. Although many of us are familiar with the term “sugar high” it’s also a misconception that when that sugar wears off your little one will crash and then sleep. Blood sugar levels and carbohydrates impact our sleep far more than that initial sugar high. According to health enthusiast Katrina Rice, immediately after eating sugar- rich foods our bodies will experience a boost in blood sugar. This can provide a burst of energy making it hard to settle down and fall to sleep. Rice also states that once our body realizes it has an excess of sugar insulin is produced in order to transfer the sugar from your blood to energy storing cells. This results in blood sugar levels dropping and therefore a feeling of sleepiness. It doesn’t stop there though, unfortunately. Once blood sugar levels drop our body then begins to produce the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones can be solely responsible for night wakings, early morning wakings as well as many other sleep issues. We do not want them to rear their ugly heads! Are we telling you not to allow your child to eat candy on Halloween? Of course not. However, understanding how sugar levels affect our little ones’ sleep should give us pause. On Halloween most of our kids will eat far too much candy, stay up too late and be wired going to bed. But that does not mean that they need to tap into their stash before each subsequent bedtime, wreaking havoc on their sleep night after night until their candy supply is depleted.
Although many of us are aware that chocolate, particularly dark, contains caffeine, it isn’t just about caffeine consumption and chocolate candy disrupting sleep but is also about sugar consumption in general. Ideally, we want to avoid all sugary snacks before bedtime. In the days after Halloween rather than saving their treats for after dinner perhaps allow your child to have one or two treats when they come in from school with his regular snack. Although many of us are tempted to use dessert as a bargaining tool to encourage our children to eat enough of their healthy dinner, from a sleep standpoint it is far better for them to eat a sugary treat earlier in the day well before dinner time, allowing enough time for the sugar to be processed and the side effects gone before bedtime.
If your child wants a snack before bed, try to consider something healthy such as a complex carb or something protein rich. It’s also best to keep the snack nutritious, but not too exciting, so that your little one is not requesting a snack each night before bedtime just because they are excited to see what mom may offer next. While there are no foods that induce sleep certain foods certainly do make it easier for us to settle down and feel relaxed in order to get to sleep while others can leave us feeling jittery and wired. Good choices include things such as nuts, seeds, milk, bananas, oatmeal, or whole grain bread and butter.
You may also consider limiting your child’s candy supply. Instead of letting the Halloween candy linger in the house for weeks on end consider donating the candy to overseas soldiers or having a “candy fairy” trade your child’s candy with a small toy or new book. And, no need to keep the candy in plain view and/or accessible to little hands. A day or two after Halloween, “tidy up” by putting all the candy in a bag or other container and then in the cupboard for “safe keeping.” The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” has its merits.
The message here is not to deprive your child of a fun holiday but rather to be mindful about the time of day they are eating their loot and how much they are being allowed to keep and consume for the days and weeks that follow.
Enjoy this fun holiday with your child! Accept that bedtime will be too late that night. Know they will eat far too much sugar and junk. But then, return to routine as best as possible the very next day. Just as with many other things in life the goal is to enjoy in moderation.
Lauren Stauffer is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Well Rested Baby. She offers a host of services including in person, phone, email, and Skype/FaceTime consultations that can be tailored to meet any family’s needs and schedule. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation. Be sure to follow WRB on Facebook for more great sleep tips!
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