Getting Kids to Sleep on Halloween
Thrills, laughter, and excitement abound as kids romp around the neighborhood collecting candy. Halloween is a surefire recipe for a night of fun, but not so much for good sleep. Halloween tends to leave kids wired, and parents exasperated, as they try to coax their children to fall asleep.
Whether it’s the sugary treats or spooky costumes, Halloween has its excesses. Any one of them can keep kids up at night. And kids need sleep, even more than the rest of us, especially if Halloween takes place on a school night.
Below we break down why Halloween makes sleep elusive, and share our best tips for parents who want their kids to have fun, but sleep well, too.
Why Sleeping on Halloween Can Be Tough
A lot of things can keep your children up on Halloween. For most kids, though, it comes down to a night of bingeing on sugar, fear, and excitement.
Sugar and Sleep
Sugar is plentiful on Halloween. Eating too much candy can induce a sugar rush, followed by a crash. The rush makes it tough for kids to fall asleep, and the crash makes their sleep less restful. This is all thanks to the relationship between sugar and our sleep cycles. Here’s how it works.
Our blood sugar levels are linked to our body’s natural circadian rhythms. These are the same rhythms that dictate our sleep patterns. When we eat a bunch of sugar, our blood sugar rises. To restabilize your blood sugar levels, your body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone).
The effect is an energizing one that wakes you up, creating a sugar rush. Unfortunately, the two hormones released — adrenaline and cortisol — operate in direct inverse to your melatonin levels, the hormone that induces sleep. In other words, as your body reels from the sugar high, your brain delays sleep until sugar levels stabilize.
When you fall asleep after eating a lot of sugar, it’s likely that your blood sugar levels are still elevated, along with your cortisol and adrenaline levels. As a result, sleep is less restful than usual, explaining those grumpy post-Halloween mornings some kids experience.
Fear and Sleep
Adrenaline and cortisol also accompany another Halloween experience: fear.
Bedtime fears are a common experience for many children, whether it’s a fear of nightmares, a monster under the bed, or trees scraping against the window. Halloween highlights and amplifies all these fears, encouraging children to venture into the dark where they encounter frightening costumes and jump scares at neighbors’ homes.
Fear activates our fight-or-flight response and the sympathetic nervous system. At a hormonal level, this means that our adrenaline and cortisol levels rise. When stress is high, melatonin is low, so it’s challenging for your brain to fall asleep.
Eventually, fearful children will fall asleep. But depending on the intensity of their fear, they may be sleeping in a state of hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is common with sleep disorders like stress-induced insomnia.
Essentially, because the body is still on high alert, it’s difficult to sufficiently relax to enjoy a full night of restful sleep. People remain in a lighter state of sleep, which means little ones may be more likely to wake up and have their sleep interrupted by loud noises or outbursts from the neighbors still partaking in Halloween festivities.
For some kids, it’s not fear that keeps them up, but excitement. Excitement and fear are two sides of the same coin. Excitement is a more enjoyable emotion, but it’s just as disruptive to sleep. Hormonally, we experience excitement in a similar way we feel fear. As a result, kids who are amped up after a night of successful candy collecting can find it difficult to wind down to sleep.
Tips to Get Kids to Sleep on Halloween
Halloween makes sleep difficult, but not impossible. Follow these tips for a good night’s sleep on the scariest night of the year.
1. Have a Game Plan.
Before Halloween arrives, develop a plan for the night with your child. Decide on how long you’ll stay out, when you’ll come home, and how you definitely won’t be eating the entire pumpkin bucket later that night. While involving your child in this decision won’t completely eliminate all objections as the night comes to a close, it will make it much easier to reason with your child and have them accept going to bed.
2. Take It Easy on the Sugar.
As you develop your plan, figure out what you’re going to do with all that candy. You may want to limit the feasting on Halloween night to just a few choice pieces, and leave the rest for the days and weeks following. Candy can be a special dessert or reward for good behavior.
To help your kid let go of the candy, you might want to prepare a healthy bedtime snack to celebrate ahead of time. You could add orange food coloring to their yogurt, or cut up some cheddar cheese and nuts to resemble edible jack-o-lanterns.
3. Get Sleepy with a Bedtime Story.
Halloween is thrilling. Understandably, your child may have some trouble winding down for bed after their Halloween adventure. To help refocus them toward sleep, suggest creating a bedtime story together, inspired by the night’s activities. The two of you can develop characters from your favorite costumes, and perhaps set them off on a trick-or-treating plotline. Just stay away from anything too spooky.
4. Follow a Bedtime Routine.
Bedtime routines are important, no matter your age. Following a calming bedtime routine trains your brain to wind down for bed, and it provides your child with a sense of structure that can be very reassuring, helping them feel safe before sleep.
If possible, try to start their bedtime routine at the same time on Halloween as you would any other night. You can always start trick-or-treating earlier (framing it as “more time equals more candy”), so you can get home in time to start their routine.
5. Block Out the Boos and Aahs.
It’s likely your child will be ready for bed before the rest of the neighborhood. Halloween is a loud evening, as rogue teenagers and excited kids roam the streets. Once you’ve got your child tucked in, help them stay calm and asleep by blocking out noise. Crank up the white noise machine in their bedroom a bit louder than usual, or place a fan by the window as an additional sound buffer.
By your front door, leave a bowl of candy with a note that you’re sleeping, but silent trick-or-treaters are still welcome. Most neighbors will be happy to oblige and tiptoe off with their candy.
An endless supply of sugar, scares, and surprises makes sleep elusive on Halloween. Going in with a game plan can help you set expectations with your child. For better sleep on the night of Halloween, and the days following, try to keep things as normal as possible. Limit the feasting on candy, stick to a bedtime routine, and help your child block out noise with white noise machines or fans.
Additional Tuck Resources
Looking for more resources to help your little ones sleep better year round? Check out the following articles.