The Holiday Sleep Schedule

Tis the season…


For too many parties, too much sugar, endless to-do lists, and too many late nights.


I love the holidays.  I love the lights.  I love the music.  I love the gingerbread cookies baking in the oven.  And I love family games by the fire.  I really, really love that.


But the holiday season and exhausted kids seem to go hand in hand.  Between the shopping, partying, wrapping (and unwrapping), and constant flurry of activity that surrounds the holidays, kids tire easily.  The result?  Less fun than anticipated.


Adequate sleep is crucial for kids, no matter the season.  Kids who do not log enough shuteye are at risk for frequent colds and other illnesses, increased stress, decreased ability to concentrate, and poor eating habits.


What does that really mean for parents of young children?  It means frequent visits to the MD, temper tantrums, not so great reports from school, and food wars.  Are we having fun yet?


When life becomes hectic, it’s vital to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.  Kids need rest and downtime to stay healthy, happy, and playful.


And what would a holiday be without healthy, happy, and playful kids?


Stick to the schedule:  A consistent bedtime routine helps kids get to be on time and promotes healthy sleep habits.  Keep the schedule consistent, even when vacation begins.  It can take the body a few days to adjust to changes in schedule, and that adjustment period can be exhausting.  It’s best to maintain consistency.


Avoid “one night only”:  It always seems like a good idea to stay up later just this once because it’s a holiday and the kids are having fun.  One late night often results in two days of cranky kids.  While some kids will sleep off a late night, many do not.  If you bend the bedtime a little, try to stay within a ½ hour of the regular the time.


Factor in recovery time:  If you do allow for change during the holiday season, be prepared.  Adjustments in sleep schedules take time (there’s a reason daylight savings time is torture) and kids will feel lethargic and cranky and change their eating habits as they adjust.  Be sure to factor in plenty of downtime (quiet playtime) and encourage short naps to help them make the transition.  Allow at least three days to ease back into school schedule when the vacation comes to an end.  Kids require time and patience when sleep is interrupted.


Avoid overscheduling:  It’s always difficult to say no to a fun party, but overscheduling during the holidays almost always leads to stress and exhaustion.  Choose a couple of parties to attend, and learn to say no.  Setting limits on party attendance is a great lesson for kids to learn.  When you learn to avoid excess stress, you create a calm and enjoyable holiday season for your family.


Family time:  School vacations always seem like an opportunity to visit every museum and science center in the area.  It’s great to plan a couple of outings, but try to factor in plenty of quiet family activities at home.  Quality time spent together results in better communication, less stress overall, and happier kids.  Break out the hot cider and schedule family game night!


Model healthy sleep habits:  I’ve said it before, but it’s always worth repeating:  Your kids will do as you do, not as you say.  Be sure to stick to your own sleep schedule so that you can stay healthy and keep your own stress to a minimum.  A stressed out parent = stressed out kids.  Be sure to take care of you too.


Now get out there and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season!



About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)