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Lifestyle & Life Moments

Throw the Best Sleepover Party (Where You Actually Get Some Sleep)

Shot of cute little children with pot helmets in a blanket
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Sleepovers can be super fun and memorable experiences for kids. Let’s face it, though: Hosting one can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you’re committed to helping attendees get good sleep. In addition to answering questions like: “What are some fun things to do at a sleepover? What are the best sleepover games? What snacks should you stock up on?” It’s important to ask: How can you ensure the kids who attend the sleepover actually get some sleep? It’s no fun to sacrifice your own sleep as you tend to cranky, wound-up kids in the middle of the night. Plus, no one wants to deal with a crew of sleep-deprived, irritable guests the next morning.

Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know about how to throw the best sleepover…one where kids actually catch some Zzz’s. This comprehensive guide includes expert sleepover tips on ensuring a great night, including the best games to play, sleepover ideas for teens and how to make sure kids remain happy and comfortable at your slumber party.

Sleepover Basics

Before we get started on tips for throwing an amazing sleepover—one where everyone sleeps!—let’s go over some FAQs parents typically have about sleepover basics:

What’s the Right Age for Kids to Attend Sleepovers?

Determining whether your child is ready for a sleepover isn’t just about how old they are; it’s also about whether they are developmentally and emotionally ready to be separated from their parents, to behave safely and healthfully away from their parents, and to fall asleep in a new place. Some kids are ready for this as early as age 5, but others aren’t ready until 8 or 9 years old.

What Should Guests Bring?

If you are having your guests sleep in sleeping bags, you can ask them to bring their own sleeping bags. You may also want to encourage them to bring pillows and a favorite blanket so their sleep setup feels familiar and comfortable. Encourage the usual toiletries.

Where Should Kids Sleep?

Not all of us have sufficient extra beds to sleep all of our sleepover guests, and that’s fine. That’s why having guests come equipped with a sleeping bag is such an age-old tradition. A couple of blankets or couch cushions on the floor usually work well, too.

Ideas for How To Throw the Best Sleepover

As you brainstorm ideas for how to throw a slumber party and what to do at your kids’ sleepover, you probably will have a lot of thoughts spinning in your mind at once. You may not know what to focus on.

According to Jade Wu, Ph.D., board-certified behavioral sleep medicine psychologist, one thing to prioritize above all else is togetherness and connection. “It’s spending time together that makes for the best sleepover,” she says.

Wu also emphasizes simplicity above all else when it comes to sleepover activities. “Personally, I think the most important ingredients are excellent snacks, one good activity and good company,” she shares. You can add a few other simple touches to your slumber party to keep it cozy and sleep-inducing, Wu says, such as putting on a sound machine, keeping sugar consumption to a minimum and making sure the room is dark (and perhaps lit with nightlights) as you get closer to bedtime.

As you begin to put together your sleepover ideas list, consider what your intention is for the party. Next, choose a few simple activities to focus on. Before you know it, your plan will start to fall into place and a sleepover to remember will be materializing right before your eyes.

Ready to unfurl those sleeping bags? Here are seven sleepover guidelines to consider.

Pick a Creative Theme

As you start brainstorming things to do at a sleepover, consider picking a theme for the party. This theme will then lead to relative ideas like decorations, costumes and fun activities.

When it comes to picking a theme, Becca Wallace, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, encourages parents to collaborate with their kids. “I love the ideas that kids come up with on their own concerning the theme,” she says. “Children are so imaginative and creative; they typically have fun themes they and their friends will enjoy.”

Wallace shared some theme ideas to get you started:

  • A sleepover based on an activity, such as indoor camping/glamping, a baking/cooking party, or a dress-up/spa-day party.
  • Turning the living room into a different and exciting location, like a magical forest, going on vacation to a tropical location or exotic island.
  • Using a theme from a favorite movie (think Percy Jackson, Barbie, Harry Potter, or Frozen) and having kids dress up as their favorite characters.

Creating a Cozy Atmosphere

If you are hoping for sleep to happen at your slumber party, consider creating a cozy, calming, relaxed atmosphere. You can even pick a theme that works well with the idea of getting cozy, such as a campsite theme or another nature-based theme.

“Personalize the campsite theme with elements based on the kids' favorite characters or interests to add fun and excitement,” says Karen Molano, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder at LumiTot. “They won't even know you are incorporating sleep strategies.”

You can set a cozy mood by dimming the lights and giving kids flashlights. Wallace suggests doing some stargazing with a light projector or putting some sticky stars on the ceiling or fireplace.

Some cozy sounds can also work well to create a cozy ambiance, Molano suggests. “You can further enhance the sleepover experience by incorporating a soothing campsite or nature sounds to match the theme, which also helps prepare kids for bed and promote relaxation,” she says.

Molano also recommends ensuring the temperature of the room is slightly cooler than you might usually keep it, especially because of the increase in bodies in one space. “Heat can disrupt sleep, and the cooler temperature can encourage snuggling under blankets for added coziness and induced sleep,” she explains.

Serving Snacks

Now, onto the main event: the snacks. Kids expect to be snacking and munching all night long. Still, some snacks and drinks are better for winding down to sleep than others. Pumping sugar and soda into a group of kids or teens at 10 p.m. probably isn’t the best idea if you are hoping for some sleep.

“When planning a sleepover party for kids, it's important to consider their dietary choices to ensure a restful night's sleep,” Molano says. “Avoid serving foods that can impair sleep, such as fatty foods, sugary snacks, soda, chocolate and high-protein meals right before bed.”

Consider the timing of when you present the less-than-healthy snacks to your guests. Experts recommend that you avoid full meals about three hours before bedtime, so consider presenting any heavy-duty snacks early on in the sleepover. If your guests are hungry closer to bedtime, consider lighter, healthier fare, such as air-popped popcorn or carrot sticks.

So, what should you serve your slumber party guests? Molano says to opt for sleep-inducing options like cherries, nuts (provided there are no allergies), bananas and oats. “These foods are rich in nutrients like melatonin and magnesium, which aid in relaxation and promote better sleep quality,” she says.

Of course, if your guests are young kids, you’ve got to make these sleep-inducing snacks kid-friendly. “Consider incorporating these ingredients into a delicious and kid-friendly treat, such as a cherry smoothie with bananas and oats, to provide a nutritious bedtime snack that supports a peaceful night's sleep for all the young guests,” Molano suggests. If you want even more bang for your buck, make sure to stick to Montmorency tart cherries, which have substantially higher levels of melatonin than other types of cherries. Take Pictures for Long-Lasting Memories

Taking pics of your slumber party might be the last thing on your mind as you work on all the planning and organizing, but you’ll definitely want to take a few snapshots of the occasion for memories and keepsakes. You can take some pics with your phone, but why not turn photo-taking into an activity that all your guests can enjoy?

It’s easier than you think to create a DIY photo booth—and you can do this on a budget, too. Simply tack up some fun posters on your wall or hang some bright-colored fabric or tinsel on the wall. Then, gather up all the costumes and dress-up clothes your kids have lying around, put them in a box, and let your party guests go wild.

You can download a photobooth app to your phone or tablet, which will provide filters and frames to liven up your photos. You can also go old-school and buy a bunch of disposable cameras for the kids to use.

The Best Slumber Party Games and Activities

A slumber party isn’t complete without a few entertaining games and activities. When planning your slumber party activities, you want to not only plan what to do, but when to do it. If you’re hoping to wind the guests down for bed at a somewhat reasonable hour, you’ll want to schedule most of the exciting, lively games and activities for the early hours of the evening.

How to pick the best stuff to do at your sleepover? Wu says you really only need one main activity that you plan beforehand. She suggests that you don’t over-plan it, and when possible, let your kids or teens pick the activity.

“A big part of what makes a sleepover fun and a good experience is the sense of independence kids will have, so it would be counterproductive to over-plan and micromanage events,” Wu explains. “We also don't want to overwhelm kids (or ourselves) with so many options that we don't end up doing anything fun. This is called ‘choice paralysis.’"

Activities will vary based on the ages of your guests. Here are some of the classic activities and games for a slumber party based on age.

Try a PJ-Decorating Activity

Looking for an activity that is both fun and creative but also gets your guests in the mindset of sleeping? Shelley Grieshop, a journalist and blog writer at Totally Promotional, suggests that kids try a T-shirt-pajama-decorating activity.

“Explain to the kids that their masterpieces can be worn to bed as PJs,” Grieshop suggests. “That's an incentive for bedtime! The children can also take the shirts home with them to remind them of the fun time they had at your house.”

A T-shirt or pillowcase decorating activity can be simple, Grieshop says. Here’s how to get started:

  • Give each kid a blank T-shirt.
  • Allow them to decorate their items with fabric markers if they’re using them for bed that night or paint if you plan on leaving them out overnight to dry.
  • Give the kids free creative rein, or consider having them decorate their items according to the party theme.

As an equally sleep-centric alternative, have the kids decorate their own pillowcases. Younger kids can try potato stamping, while older kids can dip-dye ombre cases or embroider a simple initial.

Best Slumber Party Activities for Kids

  • Scavenger hunts: Hide a handful of clues around your house or the slumber party space and send them on their way. Be sure to stay close by to give any needed tips if they get stumped.
  • Charades: You can DIY this party game with pieces of paper and a bowl or buy a kit. You can even get the kids involved by taking suggestions before starting the game.
  • Movie night marathon: This is a classic sleepover tradition, but be conscious to not show a movie that may keep kids up with jitters. Try to wrap the viewing party at least an hour before bedtime, so kids have screen-free wind-down time.
  • Dance party: Grab your phone and start the music. If you want to make it more of a game, turn the music into freeze dance, pausing the music sporadically. The last person standing can be the next master of the music.
  • Make your own pizza: Dish out a wide variety of toppings in assorted bowls and give each partygoer a premade pizza crust to let each child “make” their own pizza. Let an adult be the saucier and the oven-tender to minimize messes and risk of burns.
  • Make your own ice cream sundae: Another interactive food idea is a DIY sundae bar. To avoid sugar interfering with bedtime, try to serve ice cream at least three hours before your planned lights out, but if things run late, take heart that dairy is a great before-bed snack.

Best Slumber Party Activities for Tweens and Teens

  • Name that tune: Have guests take turns picking a song and playing only a couple of seconds at a time, seeing which guest can name the tune the fastest.
  • Video game tournaments: Pick a game that is multi-player and allows people to cycle through to make sure everyone can get a chance to play.
  • Karaoke: Make your own karaoke party at home by pulling up the instrumental version of songs on YouTube. Looking to take it to the next level? There are many Bluetooth karaoke microphones out there that allow you to hook it up to a speaker.
  • Spa party: This can be a great wind-down activity, especially since it doesn’t involve any screens. Provide guests with face masks, foot masks and lotion to pamper themselves as they chat before bedtime.
  • Make a short movie or fake commercial: This one can double as a fond keepsake for guests to look back on for years to come. Have your guests come up with a short script and find costumes or props before filming the finished product.
  • Friendship bracelet-making: Another wind-down activity that’s perfect for the end of the night. Turn on some soothing music and let guests make their own bracelets with the provided beads, strings and charms. Consider looking up some tutorials ahead of time to give them inspiration to try something new.
Young Asian female friends singing karaoke having fun at colorful house party at night.
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Encourage a Bedtime

If you want some actual sleeping to occur at your sleepover, you will want to create some expectations for your guests. You can tell them at the beginning what the schedule of events is, including an approximate bedtime. You might even want to tape the schedule to the wall or use a chalkboard to share it.

You don’t have to stick to your schedule by the book, but it can be good to make sure that any energizing activities—like a dance party or scavenger hunt—happen early on in the evening. It’s also good to serve dinner and snacks a few hours before bedtime, so kids have time to digest.

As for bedtime, you don’t necessarily have to have a hard deadline, but consider planning the cozier activities toward the end of the evening. You can also put a “lights out” suggestion on your schedule, though this isn’t necessarily when kids have to be asleep.

“I am a big supporter of having a clear and established ‘quiet time/bedtime’ (example: 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) where noise will be quieter, tablets/ phones, etc. are turned off and calmer movies are played,” Wallace recommends.

Wu says it’s good to set some expectations right upfront about bedtime and use an external cue to signal bedtime. This way, you don't have to play the "bad cop.” For instance, you can tell your guests when a specific song comes on or when the lights go off, it's time for bed.

As for when exactly bedtime needs to be, you don’t have to be terribly strict. “No need to be so strict that bedtime is as early as usual...maybe let bedtime be an hour or two later than usual and give a 30-minute heads up so nobody's surprised,” Wu says.

Of course, bedtime will depend on the kids’ ages and maturity. You may be able to give a bedtime to an 8-year-old but probably won’t have much luck with a group of tweens or teens, Wu says. “That's okay; occasional sleepless nights are worth the fun,” she assures.

As important as it is for kids to get good sleep, Wu emphasizes that if kids miss a few hours of sleep every once in a while, it’s nothing to stress over too much. “Socializing in this specific way is a beloved ritual of childhood and adolescence, and there's no need to miss out on it just to protect sleep 100% of the time,” Wu says. Plus, she says, kids can catch up on sleep the next day by taking a nap.

The Morning After

Transitioning from sleepover mode back into real life can be challenging at times. Having a calming, positive morning after-sleepover morning routine can help ease the transition and put kids in a good mood.

Wallace says you can allow your guests to wake when they naturally do, but you can also establish a time when you expect them to wake up. A tempting breakfast is a good incentive to get kids up and moving.

“I would theme the breakfast with whatever the theme is for the sleepover or invite all the kids to write their ideal breakfast on a notecard and see what is possible to make as a buffet the next day,” she suggests.

Wu recommends a hearty, protein-rich breakfast to curb hunger. So, think yogurt, eggs, breakfast burritos, or protein-enhanced smoothies. Of course, you can also add fun breakfast foods into the mix, like pancakes, waffles and muffins. Just go easy on the sugar.

Despite your best efforts, your party guests might still be cranky in the morning. Don’t beat yourself up if this happens, but do make sure to be mindful of it and act accordingly, Wallace says.

“Children might be more tired and irritable given changes in sleep so be understanding but also, limit inappropriate behaviors aimed at others,” she describes. “The rest of the day should be calmer activities to avoid overstimulation and meltdowns due to tiredness.”

Sleepover Safety Tips

When it comes to sleepover planning, you are probably focused mostly on activities, themes and how to keep your guests happy, content and (hopefully!) well-slept. However, safety is a vital aspect of a successful sleepover, and being a good sleepover host means being aware of safety procedures, emergency plans and other important guidelines.

Wu’s top safety tips include:

  • Know everyone’s allergies and avoid common allergenic foods when possible.
  • Know the parents’ names and contact information ahead of time.
  • Give the kids space, but always keep an ear out so you can help when needed.

It’s also important to recognize not all kids will stay through the night during a sleepover. This isn’t a failure on the part of the host—it’s simply that all kids are different and have different comfort levels.

There are some things you can do to help children feel more comfortable at your sleepover, says Molano, such as incorporating nightlights for kids who are afraid of the dark and checking in with each child separately to see how they are feeling. You can also observe your guests for signs of discomfort.

Whatever happens, you’ll want to prepare for what to do if a child needs to leave the sleepover early. “Have everyone's contact information handy and ask parents ahead of time if there is anything important to know about their child,” Molano suggests. It may also be a good idea to ask all parents to keep their phones on ring in case you need to get ahold of them in the wee hours of the night. “Establish a backup plan to contact parents in case any issues arise late at night, ensuring a smooth and supportive sleepover experience for all participants,” Molano says.

The Bottom Line

Figuring out how to throw a sleepover can be daunting at first. But it’s actually easier than you think. All you need are a few simple activities. Your child can help you come up with the types of games and themes that their friends will enjoy most.

Sleepovers don’t have to be synonymous with no sleep, either. It’s totally possible to have a sleepover where the kids actually sleep. Just schedule the most exciting activities and heaviest meals toward the beginning of the evening, and sneak in some calmer, cozier activities as the night winds down.

And don’t forget to schedule a low-key night for yourself the following night.

You’ve got this!

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