How to make sure your kids get enough sleep during the busy holiday season

The holiday season has arrived, and as it does each year, it feels impossible that we're already here! This is a time that so many of us look forward to. The holidays are full of family, activities, good food, and plenty of fun.

Unfortunately, it's also a season of meltdowns, tantrums and complete de-railing of schedules for many of us with small children. And while I do look forward to this time, I don't look forward to the overload of everything—sugar, activities, crazy schedules, over-stimulation, too many presents and people, and the inevitable gain in my waistline.

Sleep seems to be the first thing that goes during this hectic season, and yet it's the very thing we need the most.

I've learned over the years, that if I'm not prepared before the madness happens, it overtakes my children, and rather than enjoying the season, I am simply surviving. And that's just no fun.

Here's how to enjoy the season without sacrificing your family's sleep schedules—which means less tantrums and more smiles for all.


1. Put sleep first

During the holidays most of us have family and friends coming to us, or we're traveling to see them. Either way, there's a shift in the daily patterns and structure of your household and blending of households is often inevitable.

When my son was a newborn, I got major anxiety about visits with family. Don't get me wrong, I love spending time with them, and I was always happy to see them, I just knew how stimulated he would get and how much it affected his ability to sleep. What I realized was that there were just too many people and noises and, despite their best intentions, they did not understand the black hole of sleep I was in.

I almost skipped the holidays with my family the following year, but realized if I simply had a conversation with them ahead of time it might relieve some of the anxiety I was experiencing.

I basically had to say, "Neither of us are enjoyable without enough sleep so we might not be able to participate in ALL of the things, because sleep is going to take priority."

Seven years later I am still communicating the same message that my child's health comes first and sometimes that means leaving in the middle of family game night to put him to sleep.

You might be surprised that your family is more understanding than you think—I definitely was.

2. Stick to your child's current sleep schedule as best as possible

You might already be preparing yourself for nap times and bedtimes to go out the window.

If so, stop. With all of the extra stimulation your child is experiencing around the holidays, they need more sleep, not less.

Even though this season is temporary, it is still important to keep your child's sleep schedule as consistent as possible.

Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Plan travel realistically. My sister (bless her soul) booked flights at 6am for her family out of state and it was a nightmare, as anyone could have predicted. Maybe you get in later than you want, but at least your travel time won't be completely miserable if you can plan for a more realistic option.
  • Schedule activities around nap time, if possible. If it's not possible, this might mean you miss some activities e. Skip the family outing or skip nap time and deal with a cranky child the rest of the day? A nap sounds much better to this mama.
  • Try for an earlier bedtime if nap time wasn't sufficient. It's possible you might have several failed nap attempts, due to the simple fact that you might be in a new environment or your child is too stimulated. In this case, move bedtime up to ensure you reach your sleep goal for the day.
  • Keep your child's bedtime routine, even when you're somewhere new. Sticking with the same routine you practice at home will help your little feel more structured amidst the chaos.

3. Prepare a healthy sleep environment

Environment is quite possibly the biggest challenge when traveling or when space is an issue. There are a few ways you can anticipate and prepare a sleep environment if you are traveling or hosting visitors:

  • Plan your child's sleep environment ahead of time. This might mean bringing a pack-n-play, preparing another room in the house, or borrowing a crib.
  • Avoid bringing your child into bed with you if you don't co-sleep at home. Even though it may just be for a few days, if your child is not currently co-sleeping, it is not best to bring this practice in now since it can feel like a big shift.
  • Ask family members and friends to be respectful of their noise level during nap and bedtimes. It might mean they need to leave the house during this time or plan a quiet activity during a scheduled nap or bedtime.
  • Consider getting a hotel room, or encouraging family and friends to check out local hotels. If you are traveling and are worried about noise interruption or too close of quarters, a hotel might be a better option.
  • If traveling, try and bring a few things that are familiar to your child, such as a lovey or blanket.

4. Avoid sugar like the plague

Growing up I always looked forward to making cookies, building gingerbread houses, and enjoying a large cup of hot cocoa. And while I still enjoy these holiday treats, I have also learned that sugar and my kids equals significantly more meltdowns and sleep interruptions.

Thankfully, I have found a way to make some simple substitutions when baking and preparing treats (including a few other healthy swaps)

Instead of…

  • Sugar use syrup, honey, fruit juice or applesauce
  • White flour use almond or coconut flour
  • Cow's milk use almond or coconut milk
  • Milk chocolate use dark chocolate or carob
  • Using the full amount of sugar, use half of what the recipe calls for

In addition to these substitutions, these foods are off limits for my family before bed:

  • Dairy
  • Fried foods
  • Citrus
  • Fruits high in sugar (like figs, mangos, cherries and grapes)
  • Spicy foods
  • And, of course caffeine.

The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, and although a lot of us feel the stress that comes with the season, sleep shouldn't be one of those. By following these simple steps, you'll give your kids one of the greatest gifts of all—rest.