Sending kids to bed early on Christmas Eve is 'counterproductive', sleep expert says

Cute funny little kids teenagers brother and sister twins in pajamas and Santa Claus hats have fun hugging and fooling around sitting on the bed in the cozy bedroom of the house during the Christmas holidays before sleep
Getting kids to sleep on Christmas Eve might be scuppered by excitement and adrenaline. (Getty Images)

The poet Clement Clarke Moore wrote: “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house; not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” But Moore clearly did not take into account the boundless energy of overexcited children who just can’t wait till Christmas morning to see what Santa has brought them.

Christmas Eve is one of the most exciting times for kids, but this can be challenging for parents trying to wrangle wiggly children into bed. Some parents might think that sending young ones to bed as early as possible before the big day will give them lots of time to get some rest – but a sleep expert has warned that this won’t be the case.

Instead, putting kids to bed early could do the opposite of get them to sleep as there is too much adrenaline coursing through their little bodies. It makes the task counterproductive and could result in inadequate sleep and grumpy children on Christmas morning.

Dr Sophie Bostock, sleep expert at Benson’s for Beds, says: “We often associate sleep problems with stress, but feeling excited in anticipation of a big day can have similarly disruptive effects on sleep.

“Excitement can boost adrenaline, the hormone that readies the body for action. Adrenaline increases our heart rate and blood pressure, and triggers the release of energising glucose into the bloodstream. This can make us feel restless and irritable, and make it much less likely that we’ll fall into a deep sleep.”

Cute boy and a girl lying on the bed in Christmas day
It's easy to be too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve! (Getty Images)

So, how can you get your over-enthusiastic kids to settle down? Dr Bostock gives her top tips.

Avoid getting over-tired

The festive season is full of cheer, but there are so many things to do that it can be easy to ignore normal bedtime and you might bend the rules so your kids can enjoy themselves for a bit longer.

But pushing bedtime back too far, past the point of sleepiness, means the body relies on stress hormones to stay awake instead. “This is often the case for children who are insistent that they want to stay up, but then it can take much longer than usual to settle down to sleep,” Dr Bostock says.

“Aim to wind down at a similar time each night, but only switch out the light when you’re feeling sleepy.”

Stick to relaxing routines

Even if tomorrow is a big day, you should try not to change existing bedtime routines too much so that your children’s brains can relax into the familiar winding down that they are used to.

“It might be the holidays, but a warm bath, reading a book and a cuddle in bed is still a great recipe for preparing for bedtime,” Dr Bostock recommends. “Other options for your wind down routine might include meditation, listening to music, doing crafts or gentle stretching. Try to avoid screens if you can.”

Breathe slowly

Teach your children a breathing exercise to get them to relax if they are laying wide awake in bed. Doing so will help switch off stress responses and activate the opposing relaxation response, Dr Bostock says. It could even help you relax after a long day of Christmas activities.

“Take some long slow breaths, in and out through your nose. Feel your belly rise as you breathe in, and fall as you breathe out. Try box breathing: in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, out for a count of four, and hold for a count of four. Repeat.”

Imagine calming places

Dr Bostock recalls using her imagination to distract her mind as a child excited for Christmas morning. “I used to imagine myself as the child in The Snowman, flying around the world, holding the Snowman’s hand,” she says.

Imagining a favourite dream or a relaxing holiday destination can also help your kids drift off to sleep. “The idea here is to immerse your mind in an experience which makes you feel happy, calm and relaxed.”

Let them stay awake!

A couple sitting on their bed with their two sons during the Christmas period. The eldest son is opening a present out a stocking as his father watches. His mother is looking at his brother and smiling.
Christmas Eve can be fun for everybody, when there isn't pressure to get to sleep. (Getty Images)

Given Dr Bostock’s previous tips on getting kids to sleep, letting them stay awake on Christmas Eve instead sounds rather counterintuitive. But, she says it can be “surprisingly effective”.

“By trying to stay awake, you remove the pressure to sleep which can help you to relax and enter a better mindset for sleep,” she explains. “This approach is called ‘paradoxical intention’.”

However, she warns: “It won’t work if you force yourself to stay awake too actively! Instead, turn out the lights and focus on the fact that you are warm and safe in your bed. Gently keep your eyes open. Tell yourself that you’re warm and safe in your bed, and it’s OK to just relax. You don’t need to sleep. If you’re tired, sleep can then take over.”

With only five sleeps until Christmas, now is a good time to get those routines into place and give your little ones the space to be excited while avoiding too much disruption to bedtime.

Watch: Yahoo's Expert Guide to Sleep: 18 months – 4 years

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