Maintaining a schedule for your little one gives their days predictability while helping them feel safe and secure. A main part of this includes having a healthy, consistent sleep schedule.
However, around the holidays, schedules can be tough to follow. Being out of school coupled with traveling and other factors can throw off any routine, especially the ones you’ve established around your child’s sleep.
“We are creatures of habit,” Sanjiv Patel, MD, FAASM, FCCP, medical director of Mercy Health – Fairfield and Liberty Falls Sleep Centers, shares. “We like schedules and when we don’t have those things, it can disrupt our sleep a lot. We see this in people who retire. Without a schedule, their sleep schedule is destroyed. We like to have guardrails that tell us what to do.”
Kids appreciate those guardrails, too! So, what can we do as parents to help them stay in place during the holiday season?
“It is important to keep some structure,” Dr. Patel says. “Over the holidays we change our diet, exercise habits and even our daily habits like bedtimes. All of these can affect how you sleep at night.”
Most of us agree that the holidays wouldn’t be complete without cookies, pies, cakes and fatty foods.
“Be careful though because high-carb meals can impair your sleep,” Dr. Patel says. “They can cause you to wake up more in the middle of the night. Remember that balanced nutrition and good sleep go hand in hand.”
Another factor that can affect your child’s sleep routine is exercise.
“Kids may not be as active as they usually are over the holidays. There’s no recess and sports teams may be on pause,” Dr. Patel advises. “Try to go for a walk and get outside to play.”
Despites these factors, Dr. Patel recognizes that the holidays are special.
“It’s more than OK to relax a little,” he says. “You can bend the rules but don’t break them.”
But what does this difference look like? A good example is your child staying up four hours past their normal bedtime is breaking the rules, while bending the rules is them staying up an hour or so past their normal bedtime.
“If you think about holiday breaks, the ‘free for all’ can start right before the holiday and keep running throughout the break,” Dr. Patel shares. “And then the day before school starts, you try to get the kid back to bed at their normal time. This approach will not work.”
He adds, “during summer break, for example, I start getting the kids back on schedule a week ahead of the start of school. We prepare by making bedtime a bit earlier in the days ahead knowing it takes time to get back on that schedule. So, a few days before the end of winter break, try this approach with your kids to help get them back on track.”
Above all else, Dr. Patel has this final advice.
“Enjoy the time with your kids, enjoy the holidays and try to keep some sort of schedule with sleeping, eating and exercise. It will make for an easier transition when it’s time to go back to your normal schedule.”