With the highly anticipated visit from Santa, Christmas Eve stands out as the most exciting night of the year for children. However, for most parents, the challenge lies in the aftermath of all that excitement, as it becomes a struggle to get them to sleep.
And while many of us will think it’s a good idea to get the kids in bed as early as possible, even if they can’t sleep, a sleep expert has warned that this strategy might be counterproductive the night before the big day.
Bensons for Beds’ resident sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock, said: “We often associate sleep problems with stress, but feeling excited in anticipation of a big day can have similarly disruptive effects on sleep. Feeling excited can boost adrenaline, the hormone that prepares the body for action. Adrenaline increases our heart rate and blood pressure and triggers the release of energising glucose into the bloodstream. This can make us feel restless and irritable and make it much less likely that we’ll fall into a deep sleep.”
So what can you do when you’re too excited to sleep? Dr Bostock shares her top tips.
Avoid getting too tired
At Christmas time, there is a lot going on. There are presents to wrap; 101 Christmas films to watch; and it’s easy to ignore your normal bedtime. There is no problem with being a bit more relaxed during the holidays.
But if you push your usual bedtime back too far, past the point of sleepiness, your body will rely on stress hormones to keep you awake. This is often the case for children who are insistent that they want to stay up, but then it can take much longer than usual to settle down to sleep. Aim to wind down at a similar time each night, but only switch out the light when you’re feeling sleepy.
Stick to a relaxing bedtime routine
If you have a routine on a typical work or school night, try not to change it too much the night before an important event. Our brains find it easier to relax under familiar circumstances when they recognise what is coming next.
It might be the holidays, but a warm bath, reading a book, and cuddling in bed are still great recipes for preparing for bed. Other options for your wind-down routine might include meditation, listening to music, doing crafts, or gentle stretching. Try to avoid screens if you can.
Slow down your breathing rate
If you’re in bed and you notice that you feel tense or wide awake, you may need to switch off your stress response and activate the opposing relaxation response. One of the simplest ways to do this is to take control of your breathing.
Take some long, slow breaths, in and out through your nose. Feel your belly rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out. Try box breathing: in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, out for a count of 4, and hold for a count of 4. Repeat.
Take your mind to a calming place
If your mind is too busy for sleep, it can help to distract it with some positive visual imagery. This could be based on one of your favourite dreams, a holiday destination, or walking around your ideal home.
Dr Bostock shared: “I used to imagine myself as the child in The Snowman, flying around the world, holding the Snowman’s hand. Nowadays, I’ll often take my mind to my favourite beach. The idea here is to immerse your mind in an experience that makes you feel happy, calm, and relaxed.”
Try and stay awake
Dr Bostock said: “Finally, it turns out that the approach that I used when I was five could be surprisingly effective. By trying to stay awake, you remove the pressure to sleep, which can help you relax and enter a better mindset for sleep. This approach is called paradoxical intention.
“It won’t work if you force yourself to stay awake too actively. Instead, turn out the lights and focus on the fact that you are warm and safe in your bed. Gently keep your eyes open. Tell yourself that you’re warm and safe in your bed, and it’s OK to just relax. You don’t need to go to sleep. If you’re tired, sleep can then take over.”
For more sleep expertise from Dr Sophie Bostock, visit the Bensons for Beds Sleep Hub.