Updated: Dec 21, 2022
5 sleep tips to help you and the children in your life get enough sleep over the holidays.
The holidays can be a hectic time for many people. Whether you’re staying home with or without guests or traveling to visit others; the kids are out of school or daycare and schedules can get out of whack easily. There are festive parties, sugary goodies, late nights and…. very tired children, leading to very tired adults! Things can get particularly challenging for children with autism or other neurodivergences.
If there is an autistic or neurodivergent child in your life, check in with their caregivers to ask how you can support them to maintain their schedule and keep things predictable and comfortable for everyone to enjoy themselves during your visit. Remember, a well-rested child and caregiver is happier and able to enjoy themselves, so respecting routines and schedules is important for all.
In order to help you support the little ones in your lives (and yourself) to manage the season, we’ve come up with a few sleep tips to help everyone get enough shuteye:
1. Prioritize quality sleep, in one session. There may be long drives or quiet time between guests that may tempt you to nap or allow the kids to nap as well. If your child no longer naps, try to travel during wake times. Allow kids some screen time in the car (if it’s not right before bedtime), enjoy favourite songs and a warm drink in your travel mug. For the brain to recharge and your body to do it’s night-time job properly, the quality and quantity of sleep matters:
Ensure everyone is getting an age-appropriate amount of sleep. Check out this chart by the CDC if you’re unsure about how much that is How Much Sleep Do I Need? | CDC
If your little one is still napping and the drive isn’t too long, try to have them nap before or after the drive
Reduce sleep interruptions and try to preserve the quality of sleep. If napping must happen on route, silence phones, turn down the temperature, turn the holiday music down and try to allow kids to sleep uninterrupted
2. Respect your sleep-wake schedule. Try to maintain your established sleep schedule for you and the little ones as best you can (plus or minus about 30 minutes). During the day, make sure you can soak up daylight. Go for a walk, play in the snow, bundle up and hit the park or find a toboggan hill to burn energy and soak up some sun (or just snowy/cloudy daylight!). This will help the body’s clock to keep time.
Prime children to let them know what to expect. For example, explain to them that bedtime will be at the same time and where they will be sleeping if it’s different than their own bed. Try to explain this before guests arrive or before you travel and remind them again before the bed time routine starts & while they are calm
3. Adapt healthy sleep hygiene to the holiday season. This takes into account two other pillars of health and wellness: nutrition and exercise.
Have children drink lots of fluids during the day, and smaller amounts in the evening. Try to avoid large meals right before bed. This may be difficult if meals are planned later than usual. You could have your child eat at their regular mealtime, followed by dessert and then allow them to have a small amount or a snack at dinner when everyone else is eating
Minimize caffeine and sugar intake, especially in the evening. Allow the treats and hot cocoa earlier in the day rather than saving them for after a later meal
Try to schedule physical activity for earlier in the day. As mentioned above, ideally during daylight hours. Lots of physical exercise too close to bedtime can delay falling asleep. Burning energy earlier in the day will help ensure children are tired for bedtime- meaning they will be motivated to fall asleep quickly
Limit screen time. Try to avoid TV, tablet and cell phone screens for the hour before bedtime. If you’re planning to cozy up for a movie, plan it earlier in the evening and opt for a short episode instead
4. Maintain your sleep routine! Stick to the relaxing routine you are used to; this reduces stress and signals the brain that it’s time to sleep.
You don’t need to be down to the minute but try to maintain your same routine within +/- 30 minutes that you usually would. For younger children, this usually starts from after dinner time to bedtime
Incorporate a visual schedule and bring it with you! This will help establish predictability when there are visitors or if you’re sleeping over somewhere else
https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/2018-09/Sleep%20Quick%20Tips.pdf is a great resource for visuals & sleep tips
Try to incorporate choice in the routine where you can. For example, allowing kids to choose the books they would like to read, where and how many BEFORE you start the routine may help motivate them to get through the routine quicker
Be sure to praise little ones for cooperating. It can be hard for them to feel like they are missing out on fun or going to sleep in a new place so expect a little resistance. If they resist the routine or become upset, acknowledge this, encourage them to do their best and persist with the routine gently. For example, “I know it’s so hard to go to bed in a new place. But you can do hard things, let’s finish brushing your teeth.”, give them a minute to calm down and continue with the routine
5. Create a safe and comfortable environment for sleep. There are a few things you can do to when you’re traveling to set up the right environment for sleep.
Bring comfy pajamas. Save the holiday PJ’s for the morning if you think they may be itchy, hot or have tags that may irritate the skin. Let your child choose which PJ’s they would like to wear. This is especially important for children with autism
Close the blinds and make sure the room is dark and cool
Turn on a white noise sound machine to drown out other sounds and help cue the brain for sleep
If you’re sleeping over somewhere else, try to remember to bring your child’s favourite blanket, pillow, stuffie and white noise machine. Having some things that they are used to will help them fall asleep easier and stay asleep through the night
Let the child know where you will be when you’re leaving the room and that you will check on them if they need you, for example “I’ll be just downstairs, I can hear you up here so I can check on you any time.”
Above all, be gentle with yourself! If your schedule gets completely thrown off, try again the next night. It may take a little while to get back on track but celebrate small wins and take your friends and family up on offers to help you get a break to relax during the day.
If you’re a friend or family member of someone who may be dealing with challenging bedtime routines, don’t be afraid to ask how you can help! When they tell you, respect the routine.
Have a safe and happy holiday season, everyone! And remember, if you feel that you need support, or it’s taking too long to get back on track please connect with us and we will be happy to help you.