It's Christmas Eve! Which means only one thing. Parents across the land are already beside themselves with angst about how on earth they'll get the kids to sleep tonight.
Professor Colin Espie - a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford and co-founder of digital health company bighealth.com - contacted Playpennies to share his five tips for getting little ones to sleep on Christmas Eve. Here's his advice...
1. Be active during the day
"There is plenty of evidence that regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night. One Australian study found that every hour a child spends inactive adds three minutes to the time taken to nod off."
This is blowing my mind. I've never doubted that exercise helps my lads sleep better and have long been convinced that little boys benefit from being treated like puppies - in so far as they must be given the chance to burn off their energy twice a day! But the idea that an hour of inactivity equates to three minutes of tossing and turning whilst trying to drop off to sleep is pretty compelling.
To that end, Professor Espie suggests taking a break from the endless run of festive films shown on TV on Christmas Eve to head to the park to help expend excess energy before bedtime. Right then, that's everyone's afternoon sorted.
2. Stick to bedtime routines and rituals
"A consistent bedtime routine, or a set of specific 'rituals' before lights out, will signal that it's time to sleep. If you're staying away from home, find ways to recreate parts of the routine, even if they are happening later than usual. Preparing for bed in the same order each night (such as bath, brushing teeth, stories, goodnight hug), will help with readiness for sleep, wherever you are. Even a few days of a consistent schedule should help your child settle into a new location. Bringing familiar bedding, toys and books will help them to relax and feel secure away from home."
This one's pretty much common sense, I think, but what can be *really* difficult at Christmas - especially when you have house guests staying or are visiting overnight with friends or rellies - is sticking to your child's normal routine when everyone around you does things differently. But my advice is to stick pretty rigidly to your routine - far better to slightly annoy someone by packing your little one off to bed rather than keeping them up to please a relative, only to pay the price for that in night-wakings or over-tiredness the next day. Chat about the bedtime plans early in the day and don't feel you have to apologise for doing what works for your little one.
3. Act before your child gets overtired
"Young children are often reluctant to admit that they're tired - even more so when the alternative to bed is playing with shiny new toys. Look for signs of sleepiness before your child starts to get overtired, which is often the driver for 'hyper' behaviour."
THIS.IS.SO.TRUE. Before I had kids I always assumed that a tired child simply finds a quiet corner to curl up for a little snooze. How wrong I was. In my house, a tired child turns into the Tasmanian Devil and starts quite literally bouncing off the walls if I don't intervene quickly enough.
"Try to start the bedtime routine at a consistent time. If they really don't feel tired, they can play quietly in their bed or crib with the lights low. If you notice that your child is often overtired at night, experiment by shifting the whole bedtime routine forward by 15-30 minutes." Now that's clever. I've honestly always found that doing this totally works!
4. Give plenty of notice
"Give plenty of notice when bedtime is coming up, and then stick to what you've said: 'In 10 minutes the cartoon will end and it'll be bath time, and then we'll have time for two books.'"
"A timer which rings when playtime runs out could be a useful 'independent' signal that it's time for bed. If your child refuses to stay in bed, try to avoid giving extra attention for bad behaviour. Be as neutral and uninterested as you can as you return your child to bed, even if you have to do this a few times. Consistency is key - even at Christmas - to help the whole family sleep well."
I see 'secure a stair gate across the entrance to the child's bedroom' isn't in Professor Espie's advice but I'll admit that's the only thing that worked for me when my kids went through that maddening getting-out-of-bed-repeatedly-for-hours-on-end stage. When you're trying to wrap Christmas presents and a little body keeps appearing in the doorway, needs must.
5. And if all else fails...
"With a house full of guests, your child may understandably feel as though they are missing out on all the excitement by going up to bed. If you've followed the tips above and still have a stubborn and weary young one hanging onto the bannisters in protest, the suggestion that Father Christmas only leaves presents for children who are asleep might just be enough incentive to encourage lights out."
Hmm, good luck with this one. I think that's only ever sent my lads demented with frustration at their inability to fall asleep!!
At this stage in the game I think the only thing left to do is open the Baileys and curse yourself for not having wrapped all the presents sooner...