Updated: Jun 7
Can you believe the year is already half over?! Sure enough, in less than a week, we will be celebrating the Fourth of July here in the USA. It's such a fun summer tradition. In the past few years since having three babies, we've enjoyed parades and picnics, but my children have yet to set eyes on fireworks. We are very fortunate that we can view our township's firework display right from our own backyard! So, we've always just put the kids to bed at their normal time and then enjoyed the fireworks from our backyard with the baby monitor. (As a side note- they always sleep right through them!)
Just the other day, my husband asked me if we were going to let the kids stay up for fireworks this year. I bet some of you are thinking that I won't allow that as a sleep consultant, right? Wrong! This year, we are going to let Gideon and Phoebe stay up to watch the fireworks! I'm so excited to see their reactions. I'll share my plan for making this a smooth, enjoyable night even though it will be a much later night that usual.
First of all, if you have a newborn or a school-aged child and beyond, then this probably isn't even an issue for you. A newborn will likely sleep right through the fireworks (I'd recommend some ear protection for them). School-aged children out for the summer are likely already staying up a little later. They can also handle bedtime fluctuation much better than younger children. The following tips focus on those kids in the middle: young babies through preschool age.
Tips for a Late Night
1. Try to honor his naps during the day when it's going to be a late night.
If you have your child out all day long with only on-the-go naps and then you're also expecting him to stay up way past his normal bedtime...watch out. That child is going to be waaaaaay overtired and crankiness is going to be inevitable. If you're planning to keep your child up late for the fireworks, or any other event, then try to make sure he gets his regular naps during the day.
Even if you are on the go, make arrangements ahead of time. Are you going to a picnic at a friend's house? Ask them if you can bring your travel crib to put your baby down for a nap inside. Do you have a long drive? Leave right around nap time and take the "scenic route" to allow him to get a full nap in the car.
2. Let him nap longer.
I'm usually a proponent for sticking to maximum daily sleep times so that a child can still sleep well at night. However, if you know it's going to be a late night, don't worry about this. For example, on a normal day, I wake Phoebe from her nap after 2 hours. If she naps any longer than that, she has a harder time falling asleep at bedtime. However, on the Fourth of July, I'm just going to let her nap as long as she wants. Since I know that she'll be getting less sleep at night, I'm going to let her get more sleep in the day.
Since Gideon no longer naps, I'm still going to encourage him to rest. He sometimes likes to "nap" in Mommy and Daddy's room. This really just means he jumps on our bed and turns our lamps on and off. He then comes out after a few minutes and says he's done napping. On the Fourth of July, I'm going to explain to him about the fireworks and that we're going to let him stay up past bedtime to see them. In return, he has to rest for X amount of time that afternoon. I'll set up his Hatch light as a timer for when his rest time is over. If he falls asleep, great; if not, his body will at least get some rest.
If you have a newborn or baby, you can also try to get him to go to sleep at his normal bedtime in a carrier or stroller. Then, if they wake up when the fireworks start, it'll just be a momentary wake-up. He can go back to sleep in the car and when you get home. It'll be a more disjointed night, but he actually won't lose that much sleep in that case.
You can also try to give your baby an extra cat nap in the evening to prevent him from being so overtired. This option will work best for babies who take 2 or more naps a day. If your child only takes one nap a day, then an evening nap likely won't happen if they already got their normal nap that afternoon. For kids on only one nap, you could try to stretch them a bit and do a little later nap to help offset the later night.
3. Prep him for bedtime.
Before the event, if your child is old enough to understand, explain how the night is going to go. Let him know that he's going to get to stay up late to enjoy a special event. Explain that the trade-off is that he has to go straight to bed when you get home (or when it's over if you're already home, like us). Skip your full bedtime routine. Just do a quick 5-10-minute version of the essential parts, and then straight into bed. Prepping your child of this ahead of time will help him understand. You may also want to set out pajamas, and anything else you can get ready ahead of time, to make the transition quicker and easier. Remember, he will be overtired by the time you get him to bed. Taking the time to explain it ahead of time could help reduce meltdowns.
If your event involves travel, then just know that he will fall asleep on the way home. It's inevitable and it's okay. You can take his pajamas and everything you need with you and do a travel version of your bedtime routine before you leave to go home. Then, at home, you can try to transition him straight to his bed. If that doesn't work, then simply get him up when you get home, do your short-version bedtime routine, and then put him straight to bed. You can also choose to get him up when you get home and do the short routine anyway, if you'd prefer.
4. Avoid letting him sleep in too long the next morning.
This one might come as a surprise, but I actually don't recommend letting your child sleep in way later after a late night- unless he no longer naps. First of all...I'm not saying your child will definitely sleep in the next morning. He more than likely won't anyway. However, if your child happens to sleep in, you don't want him to sleep all morning and "catch up" on missed sleep all at once.
If he still naps, only let him sleep in 30 minutes longer than usual in the morning. Any more than that is going to make the rest of his day off of schedule. You then run the risk of that later cycle continuing. For example, if he sleeps in 90 minutes extra that morning, and, as a result, all of his naps are 90 minutes later that day, then bedtime is going to be much later again...then he's going to want to sleep in later again...do you see where this is going? Expect him to be a little extra tired the day after a late night, but try to get him back onto his normal schedule right away.
If your child no longer naps, then you can let him sleep in an extra hour. I still wouldn't recommend letting him sleep in hours later as that could still affect bedtime that night. Since Gideon and Phoebe share a room, and Phoebe still takes a mid-afternoon nap, I will only let them both sleep in about 30 minutes. And again...that's IF they do sleep in. Most kids will just wake up at the same time.
5. Here's a few non-sleep tips too...
First, bring ear protection. Fireworks are LOUD. Gideon and Phoebe each have a pair of noise-canceling headphones that we'll put on them for the show. Second, bring toys and snacks. They're likely to be mesmerized once the fireworks start, but remember- they will also be tired. So, if you end up having to sit and wait for a bit, make sure you have a few little toys and some snacks to keep them occupied. Being tired and expected to just sit and wait is a recipe for disaster. Lastly, remember that this is one night a year. If it doesn't go as planned, and/or your child loses more sleep than you'd like, just get back on schedule the following day. Thankfully, independent sleepers are able to bounce back quickly after an off night! Enjoy the holiday with your family and friends!
Happy Fourth of July!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant