Should You Let Your Kids Stay Up on New Year's Eve?

Every year on December 31, parents wonder if it's OK to let their kids stay up until midnight. We spoke with sleep specialists to give you age-by-age recommendations.

New Year's Eve party celebration with kids
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New Year's Eve doesn't look the same after becoming a parent, as you're forced to swap champagne-fueled parties for bedtime stories. But as children get older, they might want to participate in the excitement of December 31. This begs an important question: Should you let your kids stay up until midnight?

While some parents may argue that New Year's is only one night, others may be concerned about throwing off their kids' sleep schedules for several days. Both arguments are valid, so we asked sleep experts for their opinion on the matter. Here, you can read about the pros and cons of celebrating alongside your kiddos on this festive evening—and if you decide to watch the ball drop together, we've got tips for warding off next-day crankiness.

Should You Let Kids Stay Up Until Midnight?

It's tempting to allow your kids to stay up much later than normal on New Year's Eve. After all, it's a holiday, you're likely feeling festive, and your kids' anticipation is on overdrive. But is this actually a good idea? It largely depends on your child's age and sleep needs, says Rachel Mitchell, certified sleep specialist and CEO of My Sweet Sleeper. Here's an age-by-age guide to letting your children stay up on New Year's Eve.

Babies and Toddlers

If you have a little kid, it's probably best to stick with their normal bedtime routine. "Babies and toddlers need significantly more sleep than adults. They have a much smaller threshold to stay awake throughout the day and before bedtime," says Mitchell. When young kids stay up much later than normal, their cortisol levels rise, which impacts their sleep quality and emotional regulation.

What's more, babies usually need several days to recoup after a single late night. "When a baby or toddler is overtired, it can make it much more difficult for them to fall asleep and stay asleep," says Chrissy Lawler, a baby sleep consultant, licensed marriage and family therapist, and founder of The Peaceful Sleeper. You can expect more night wakings and/or early morning wakings, which causes "a cycle of over-tiredness that can last a few days, until you are able to get their sleep schedule back on track," adds Lawler.

Try not to feel too bad about letting your little one doze off early on New Year's—they won't fully understand the excitement anyways!

Elementary-Aged Children

It's probably OK to let your older child stay up on New Year's Eve, but keep in mind you'll find a wider spectrum of sleep needs at this age. While some kids won't have any trouble lasting until midnight, others might not make it past 9:30 p.m. And most children will feel extra tired the next day.

"Children in elementary school may have lower sleep needs than toddlers, but it's still important for them to go to sleep within their natural sleep window, which is generally between 7 and 8: 30 p.m.," says Mitchell. "Staying up until midnight would most certainly impact the child's ability to function well the next day, and they would likely not get the restorative sleep they need."

Mitchell says parents should expect the following consequences of keeping kids up too late on New Year's Eve:

  • Lack of emotional regulation (this is a nice way of saying they'll be super cranky)
  • Trouble staying awake
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Feeling physically ill
  • Disturbed nighttime sleep

You might not mind dealing with these side effects for a brief time, but make sure to consider outside factors too. For example, if your child returns to school on January 2, will they have trouble focusing in class? Will they act cranky for your family's New Year's party? At the end of the day, you know your kids better than anyone, so you'll have a pretty good sense of how they'll react to the late night.

Tips for Ringing in the New Year With Kids

Are you partying until midnight as a family? Some advanced preparation can help you avoid meltdowns and ruined sleep schedules. Here are some tips for a smoother New Year's Eve and day-after experience.

  • Set aside a special time for your kids to nap before the New Year's Eve celebration. Even if they don't sleep, quiet rest time can be helpful.
  • Don't rush your kids to bed right after the ball drops at 12:01. They'll still be full of energy from the big celebration, and they might have trouble falling asleep right away, which can mess up their schedule even more.
  • When you put your kids to bed on New Year's Eve, follow their normal bedtime routine (brushing teeth, reading a story, etc.) These soothing rituals might help little ones wind down more quickly.
  • Don't make big plans on New Year's Day so your kid can sleep in or nap, if needed, says Mitchell.
  • Make sure kids go to bed on time (or slightly earlier) on January 1.
  • Be extra patient with your kids for a few days after the late-night bash.

Also remember this advice from Mitchell: "While [parents] may be OK with their child staying up late, children often are physically incapable of staying awake hours past their bedtime, so they may end up falling asleep anyway." In other words, don't push kids to stay awake if their body protests!

Celebrating New Year's Eve Without a Late Night

If you decided against keeping your kids up on New Year's Eve, there are other ways to celebrate before their typical bedtime! Consider these fun ideas for ringing in the new year early.

  • Make party hats and poppers, then celebrate once the clock hits noon. Kids will still experience the anticipation countdown—it'll just be 12 hours early! You can also break out the sparkling apple cider to commemorate the moment.
  • Write New Year's resolutions together.
  • Host a family movie night or play board games.
  • Serve a fancy dinner.
  • Create a bucket list for the following year.
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