December is a wonderful month filled with festive family fun and we want to squeeze every drop of joy out of it, don’t we? In our efforts to make memories with our Little Ones we can sometime get out of kilter with their usual daily patterns. Add in the building excitement of the Christmas countdown to the mix and you could be looking at way more time where being up with the birds is happening, and more besides (lengthy multiple night wakes and nightmare bedtimes, anyone?!)
With that in mind, here are my top tips for how to prevent 4am wakeups over Christmas:
Keep an eye on awake times – There is no hard and fast rule for how long a child should be awake between naps and nighttime sleep and each Little One is different. The best way to work out what your Little One needs is to block out all the noise, the well-meaning advice from family, the restrictive “get them on a schedule” baby books and tune into YOUR Little One. When you know what their typical early warning signals are to let you know they are ready for sleep soon you can respond to their needs much more effectively. Watch your Little One, NOT the clock!
Preserve naps – Following on from the first tip, it’s really important to maintain naps for your Little One, even moreso when it’s a hectic month. Have you ever heard the saying, “sleep breeds sleep”? It’s actually true! When your Little One has regular naps according to their individual needs they don’t get blasted with releases of adrenaline and cortisol to keep them going when they’ve missed a sleep window and so they won’t be woken up due to having excessive amounts in their system at night and the next morning. Over Christmas, though, it can be hard to maintain your Little One’s usual nap schedule, with events planned which clash with their naptime or visitors arriving just as you’re trying to get them down. Sometimes, this week, their naps go out of the window. So what should you do?
Bring bedtime forward – If you have had a day where naps have been missed or shorter than usual, or even just a day full of overstimulation, it’s a great idea to bring bedtime forward. What this will do is cut out any additional releases of adrenaline and cortisol that they would have received that evening during further awake time which would lead to further excess build up which would lead to even more lengthy night wakes and early starts. So what does an earlier bedtime look like in terms of time? Again, watch your Little One and not the clock. Look out for their pre-tired signs and start slowing and calming things right down much earlier than usual. Really don’t be afraid of starting bedtime much earlier than you’re used to; I’ve had mums successfully starting bedtime at 3:30pm before! And the reason an early bedtime DOESN’T mean an early start is because they are catching up on missed sleep. If your Little One still wakes early after having an early bedtime it is because they still have excess adrenaline and cortisol to burn off! Keep going!
Keep some blank space in your diary – For some people, the Christmas period is really exciting and they can’t wait to fill their month with events, meetups, parties and activities. For others the busyness and fullness can be overwhelming. Whichever end of the spectrum you sit at it’s a really sensible idea to not over-commit yourself to events and to keep some space clear in your diary for unwinding and doing nothing. It allows both you and your Little One to take stock of your experiences that day, reconnect and relax – this is meant to be a holiday period after all! This is especially important for Little Ones with a busy mind who will find it harder to switch off at night when their brain is absolutely full to the brim with all of the new things they experienced that day, which can in turn have a knock-on effect to morning wake up times. And don’t forget – what you feel, they feel, so if YOUR mind is full to the brim, they will feel overwhelmed too.
There’s no need to panic that you won’t be able to enjoy the festive period to the max in case your Little One’s sleep is interrupted this year. It’s all about balancing out your days, weeks and months and keeping an eye on and responding to the signals your Little One is giving you.
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