When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was always a sleepless night. I’d lie there imagining my presents, trying to get inside Santa’s head: Was I good enough for a bicycle? Could Santa afford that this year? Maybe I’ll get a Nintendo because I put it on my list three times! Or, oh no, maybe that annoyed Santa! I knew the sooner I fell asleep, the sooner Christmas would come. But hard as I tried, squeezing my eyes shut, burying my head in my pillow, it just never happened. Then, of course, I’d spend Christmas Day in a torpor, opening my gifts with bleary eyes and, eventually, falling asleep amidst a forest of wrapping paper. If only I’d had some tricks for falling asleep! Here are some ideas for your over-excited Christmas tot.
Give her a good, long slow-down. I think one of the things that made falling asleep so hard was partying right up until bedtime. We always had Christmas Eve dinner with family, and the house would be full of aunts, and uncles, and cousins. I’d be playing games and running around right up until bedtime. Instead, start your child’s bedtime ritual right on schedule, at the same time you usually do. Make sure there’s no extra noise or, if noise is unavoidable, create some white noise with a fan. If you have an autistic or otherwise developmentally delayed child, this process can be even more difficult. Use the techniques you always use to calm and soothe your child and be extra diligent about blocking out noise and other stimulation. If your child needs extra attention on Christmas Eve, it’s okay to leave the party. Kids come first.
Save the sugar plums for Christmas Day. Sugar is every kid’s worst nightmare on Christmas Eve night. And yet, holiday meals always have a robust dessert course. Save your kid some agony by serving him sugary foods early in the day so he has plenty of time to metabolize it before lights out.
Warm milk really does help. It’s an old wive’s tale for a reason: it works. While it may not actually have to do with tryptophan, the notorious sleep chemical (it’s not in turkey in large enough quantities to make you sleepy either), warm milk does tend to have a psychologically soothing effect, especially if it’s a remedy you use frequently. The more the brain associates something with sleep, the more effective that thing will be. If you want to plan ahead, start giving your child warm milk at bedtime a few months before Christmas.
Make sure your child has a natural, comfortable mattress. My mattress was thin and rather hard, a consequence of sharing a bunk bed with my little brother. I know a lush and luxurious natural latex mattress would have made drifting off into dreamland a whole lot easier.