Whilst I’m usually one for advocating healthy sleep schedules and routines in our youngest family members, I’m also a big believer in family time and celebrating milestones.
The trifecta of sleep-fighting villains: late night, missed nap/s, and disturbed sleep, accompany celebrations. New Year is no exception. Lunchtime BBQs, firework displays, and noisy partygoers can quickly send sleep south.
So what can you do to get your little one through the aftermath?
Many parents are surprised to learn that fatigue affects children and adults very differently. Before we dive into tips to battle overtiredness in your little one, let’s look at a few signs that are evident in an overtired child:
- Uncharacteristically clingy – usually with parents
- Overly defiant
- More prone to meltdowns
- Decreased appetite
- Hyperactive – this is the characteristic most parents are surprised by
Opposite to adults, who experience a ‘slowing down’ of the body and mind (e.g. slower reflexes, unable to concentrate, etc) when fatigued, kids throw in conflicting behaviours resulting in their bodies ramping up. They may look full of energy, laugh hysterically at everything, or turn the cute/cheeky dial right up, but what this is actually masking in many children is fatigue.
So, what do you do if you have an overtired party animal on your hands?
Move naptime earlier
If your child is still napping during the day, whether you normally set your naps around your child’s cues or the clock, bring their regular nap time forward. This is particularly important to combat a late night, or skipped nap. You can avoid overtiredness by making sure your little one is down before the overtiredness takes hold!
Keep an eye out for tired signs presenting earlier than usual. These can be extremely subtle, or they may be as obvious as that red wine stain left on your cushion from last night’s party. As soon as you see an unblinking stare, disinterest in toys, rubbing of face and/or ears, get going on your naptime routine and into bed/cot ASAP.
Move bedtime earlier
The same situation goes for bedtime (particularly in older children who are no longer napping during the day). This might mean your child is in bed before 6:00 (depending on what their usual bedtime is), and that is absolutely fine.
Doesn’t this mean my child will wake early?
This is a question I often come across when I discuss moving bedtime forward. We are not moving bedtime earlier permanently, this is a one-off occurrence. You can move bedtime back to the regular time over the course of a few days.
Overtired children tend to experience an increase in the number of night-wakings. In making sure they are in bed prior to becoming overtired, we are eliminating the possibility of increased night wakings.
Keep activity calm and stress free
You want to create as calming an environment as you can for a child who is catching up on some sleep debt. We don’t want to overstimulate a tired/grumpy child so use the following as a guide when thinking about the activities you will do:
- Avoid screen time – particularly in the 1-2 hours prior to a nap or bedtime
- Restrict sugary food/drinks
- Limit interaction from family and friends – particularly if your little one is uncharacteristically clingy
- Maintain lots of natural light when your little one is awake
- Set up a dark environment in the lead up to nap/bedtime and for sleeping
- Set up quiet time activities – particularly important for older children who are no longer napping
Don’t move your goalposts
If you’re with family and friends, or tired yourself, it’s easy to go down the ‘path of least resistance’. This might mean helping your child to drift off to sleep – patting, rocking, feeding, motion, etc.
It’s important we don’t change the sleep environment or routine drastically and introduce sleep props, as they can quickly become the new norm resulting in you having to provide that prop at every sleep situation.
Maintain your regular routines, rewards, consequences, sleep environments and don’t bend your rules. Whatever you have set up in your household (sticker charts, closing of doors, block out blinds, comforters, etc), continue these same strategies over the holiday period.
If you are with family or friends, don’t change your routines or reactions to sleep situations for their benefit, or because of their opinions. Remember no two parents are the same. You know what works for your child in the long term so stick to your guns and avoid introducing change.
Tried everything but your child still won’t go to sleep?
So, you have gone through the routine, eliminated screen time, moved naptime forward, and tried to settle your little one to sleep for a nap but it is just not happening. Introduce a walk in the pram or a drive in the car to bring on sleep and call that a nap.
It may feel like you are resorting to a sleep prop but sometimes preserving sleep is more important than pulling your hair out over a nap. Make sure you return to your regular routine and try another nap in the cot/bed at the next sleep situation.
For bedtime I would recommend a bit more persistence. If your little one settles with you in the room, and is laying down quietly, you can remain in the room until they finally drift off to sleep.
Again, it may feel like you’re introducing a sleep prop but it’s important over the next few days you work your way out of your child’s room. You can sit with them whilst they go to sleep but move closer to the door every day for 3-5 days. In a few days you will return to going through the bedtime routine, kissing your little one ‘goodnight’ and leaving the room to let them drift off to sleep.
Need more help?
If you are really struggling with your child’s sleep following the silly season, holiday, or celebration, please give me a call and I can provide additional support and guidance.