Christmas Eve is one of the most eagerly anticipated nights of the year. It is the night that presents are set under the Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas morning. But quite often it is nothing like the famous poem – ‘all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.’

Over excited children find it hard to get to sleep, and over anxious parents with presents to wrap may have to stay up beyond midnight to be sure that no one is peeking, hoping to see Santa coming down the chimney. Part of the magic and mystery of Christmas is going to sleep and waking up in the morning to see a pile of presents that wasn’t there before.

For parents, that magic can quickly dissipate when the kids are still racketing around, with every possibility that they will catch Mom and Dad with an armful of wrapped gifts. So how do you get them off to sleep so you can have a celebratory drink and a mince pie before setting out the gifts? To achieve the ideal, you have to start early on Christmas Eve.

The day before Christmas is a pretty active one; there are last minute presents to buy, ham and turkey orders to pick up, and possibly a big Christmas Eve gathering to plan. First of all, try to do as much as you can in advance, so Christmas Eve is not one mad last minute rush. Family gatherings that run on late on Christmas Eve and leave everyone making their way home to deal with overtired children (while you deal with yours) are not the best way to usher in Christmas. Try moving the family get together to Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and reclaim Christmas Eve for the immediate family. If you invite single relatives or friends over, arrange for them to spend the night so Christmas Eve can be a calmer experience for everyone.

During the day, try to give the children some outdoor fun time, not just hauling them along on last minute shopping trips. An hour or two spent playing at the park, or in the snow, will achieve a more healthy tiredness at night. If there is no snow or park, take the family on a fun run or bike ride. Walk around the neighbourhood looking at local Christmas light displays or visiting friends to deliver Christmas cards or festive tokens.

Later in the day, start calming things down with a selection of familiar and beloved Christmas movies likeThe Grinch or Frosty the Snowman. Try some board games or card games, or something less stimulating than shoot ’em up video games. Have some Christmas themed books set aside so you can read stories and poems together, and give children some paper and sticky tape so they can wrap presents for family and friends.

Follow the familiar routine at bedtime. Give them their shower or bath at the usual time and let them relax afterwards in clean pyjamas in the usual way – this is where reading stories and poems has most the most calming effect. Christmas Eve also needs its own specific pre-bedtime rituals, such as setting out a snack for Santa and the reindeer. It could be the usual cookies and milk, or perhaps something a bit healthier like carrot strips and apple juice – just remember to make sure only crumbs are left!

Keep the business of going to bed simple. Tuck them in, kiss them goodnight and leave. If they still have difficulty sleeping, try playing some soothing music within earshot. A small CD player in their room would be unobtrusive and allow them to drift off to sleep enjoying calming sounds. Try ambient music, flute music or children’s ballads to set the right mood for sleep.

Hopefully then you can wind down after the day, do your Santa duties and hang up the stockings undisturbed. Get some sleep while you can – you are going to need it in the morning!