Keeping Your Little Llamas Rested During the Holidays
Heather Andersen, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant
“Llama Llama holidays. Hustle bustle. Cooking craze. Measure sugar. Roll the dough. Ten more batches left to go…”
“Too much music, too much fluff! Too much everything for Llama…Llama Llama HOLIDRAMA!”
Do any of these excerpts from the well-loved book, “Llama Llama Holiday Drama”, sound familiar to you? With the holiday season upon us, our lives seems to go into over-drive, with every spare minute of our time filled and scheduled with holiday parties, shopping, wrapping, baking, card writing, more shopping, more wrapping, more baking…it never seems to end. While all of this is certainly very exciting, and it’s a favorite time of year for many of us, it’s also very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the holiday season and let your children’s sleep become less of a priority. Before you know it, your child is waking up in the middle of the night and/or surprising you with super early wake-up calls.
Nap on the go while we drive to the mall? Well, I guess we have to; the shopping needs to get done.
Oops, bedtime was late again; but we had a few errands to run after school and then we needed to bake cookies…how many nights this week has bedtime been late? I’ve lost track…
While some of this is part in parcel for the holiday season, before we know it, we end up with children (and adults) that can hardly enjoy the holiday season because we are all exhausted. Here are some sleep tips to get all of us through this wonderful, yet weary season:
- Keep Your Child’s Room Conducive to Sleep
At Well Rested Baby, we recommend that your child’s room should always be as dark as possible in order to promote healthy sleep. Normally, this is an easy fix, with the use of room darkening shades & blinds and the covering of all LED lights. However, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, there can often be some festive new additions to your children’s rooms. Candles in the windows? Maybe a small, but lit, tree in their room? Some new holiday night-lights? Twinkle lights from the outside of the house shining through the windows (or perhaps even added twinkle lights IN their rooms)? While all of this is certainly beautiful, it can be a real and serious distraction for your children while they are trying to fall and stay asleep at night as well as naptimes. It’s fine to have these decorations in their rooms, but perhaps make it part of your bedtime routine to turn all the lights off (let’s now say good-night to the tree and the Santa night light for example), before your child is placed into bed. And if your outdoor decorations are shining brightly into your child’s room and the curtains do not take care of it, then simply turn those lights off at bedtime. Your house may not be as festive for the evening passers-by, but your children will be sleeping better. If your child has a hard time falling asleep and goes to bed too late as a result, it is more likely that they will awake during the night and/or rise very early in the morning. In addition, it may help to dim the lights in the common areas of the house as well as your children’s rooms in the hour before bedtime as being exposed to bright lights right before bedtime may suppress melatonin production. We want to do our best to protect our children’s sleep during the holiday season, just as we do throughout the year.
- Make Sure Your Child Has a Consistent Place to Sleep
It’s very easy during the holiday season to have your children take more and more of their naps on the go (strollers and cars) as we simply have so much to do and can’t lose those nap time hours. While this may work in helping us to get more items checked off our never-ending holiday to-do list, if we make this a regular occurrence it can greatly affect our children’s sleep. Sleeping while moving is less restorative than stationary sleep as the constant motion keeps all of us from reaching our deepest stages of sleep. Think about how much more rested you feel when you sleep in your own bed as opposed to sleeping on a plane, train, bus, or car! The same holds true for our children and these naps on the go are simply not as quality in nature as sleep in their cribs, bassinets, or co-sleepers. While it may be impossible to stay home for all naps during the holidays, do your best to keep as many naps as possible at home. Arrange for childcare if you have to be gone during nap time, or if that is not an option for you, perhaps do a swap with your friends and family where you take turns watching each other’s children during awake times so that each of you can get some kid-free shopping time (and the kids get a playdate!) while not sacrificing the location and quality of the nap. Or take care of baking, card writing, wrapping and other “at-home chores” while the child is napping and then take them out while they are awake to complete the other errands.
On the days where you can’t find a way around a nap on the go, then try to time the errands with the children’s natural nap times, so that they are at least falling asleep at the biologically best times for them to catch their natural sleep rhythms. For example, if your 2-year-old naps from 1-3pm each day and you have to take the child out during naptime, then try to leave slightly earlier than 1 so that he/she has a chance to fall asleep on time. A nap at the wrong time biologically can be the equivalent of no nap as the sleep will not be as restorative. Lastly, keep in mind that although your child may have slept during their regularly scheduled nap time, that since a nap on the go is not as restorative as a stationary nap (and it was likely not as long of a nap), putting your child to sleep early that night for bedtime will help to make up for the lighter, less-quality sleep they had while in motion during the day.
- Keep the Bedtime Routine Consistent and Soothing
The holidays are an exciting time for all of us, and especially for children. School routines may be different than usual with added concerts, school parties and special field trips. They may have extended family staying over for a number of days at their house. Dinner times and locations may vary with busy and full weekend activity schedules. While we don’t want to miss out on the joy of the holiday season, we do want to remember that children crave routine and if their schedules and routines are varying too much throughout the day, their sleep can suffer. Definitely maximize their awake times and enjoy this season. But in addition to keeping naps in their original location and times (as much as possible) and keeping bedtime normal (or earlier if needed), we also want to ensure we continue to make time for the bedtime routine our children are accustomed to having each night. It can be difficult for children to fall asleep if they are moved too quickly from a holiday activity to their bedrooms without enough time to wind down and decompress. Ideally, try to make sure to not skip the bath if that is what is normally included in the bedtime routine and try not to rush through the reading of bedtime stories, while still placing the child into bed on-time.
However, if find that you are simply running way too late to make it through the entire bedtime routine and still have an on-time bedtime, then do a shorter version of the routine (maybe one less book, one less song, or just washing face and brushing teeth instead of bath) so that you can still have a soothing routine, albeit shorter, and still have the child in bed on-time. An on-time bedtime with a shorter, yet still soothing, routine is better than having a child go to bed late as an overtired child will struggle falling and staying asleep. The key is to not rush through the routine, whether you have the time for the full routine or are shortening it for a night, as we want the routine to remain soothing and relaxing for the child.
Children are very in touch with our feelings and emotions and if we are anxious during the entire bedtime routine because our minds are already 10 steps ahead thinking about the multitude of tasks we still need to complete before we can put ourselves to bed, they can pick up on this and go to bed in an anxious state themselves (which of course can have negative consequences). Use your children’s soothing and consistent bedtime routine as a chance for yourself to also relax and use this time to reconnect with your child after a very busy day. Your child will enter sleep much more peacefully and you will move on to the next round of chores in a much better mindset!
- Keep Bedtime Flexible
This is one of Well Rested Baby’s most important tips at all times of year, but it can be especially helpful at this time of year. Many of us make the mistake of keeping bedtime a set time on the clock for our children and do not modify bedtime based on the amount and quality of daytime sleep. As I mentioned above, during this time of year, it’s very common for naps to no longer take place in their normal stationary and relaxing locations, but instead on the go. Missing naps altogether can also happen more and more during this busy time. Sometimes this is unavoidable and the best way to react is to move bedtime earlier to make-up for any loss of daytime sleep (or simply to make-up for daytime sleep that did happen but was less quality in nature). For example, if your 2-year-old normally takes a nap from 1-3, but because the nap was in the car one day and it was only 1 hour, then you would want to make bedtime at least an hour earlier that day (1.5 hours early would even be better to also account for the sleep in motion). The early and flexible bedtime is the best way to ensure that our children stay well rested during this hectic holiday season and are given the opportunity to make-up any of that lost daytime sleep.
Happy Holidays from Well Rested Baby!
Heather is a Family Sleep Institute certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant. She recently joined the Well Rested Baby team, working with the founder of Well Rested Baby, Amy Lage. For any questions, please visit the Well Rested Baby website at www.wellrestedbaby.com or email Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to also like our Facebook page!