Let’s face it. Quarantine sucks. Sure, everything is virtual now so we don’t have the hassle of getting up early to get to school or work. But that doesn’t help sleep schedules at all, not for us or the little monsters.
Since kids can attend classes right from their room, they spend most of their time cooped up inside. This decreases their physical activity and their exposure to sunlight. On top of that, changes to their school schedule cause some kids to sleep later and wake up later.
How does this affect the kids? All of this can cause increased difficulties with falling asleep and staying asleep. According to a February 2021 study on children in Italy examining how quarantine has affected sleep in children and adolescents, there was a significant increase in the number of kids who slept later during quarantine. The rise times show similar changes, with shifts from earlier rise times to later rise times during quarantine. The study showed a significant decrease in the number of kids who could fall asleep in less than 15 minutes. At the same time, there was a jump in the number of kids who took longer than 30 minutes. The study also shows that sleep disturbances also appeared more often during quarantine. The most prominent ones include difficulties falling asleep, anxiety at bed time, night awakenings, sleep walking, sleep terrors, nightmares and even daytime sleepiness. Lack of sleep also leads to increased anxiety within children. That increased anxiety only leads to more sleep problems, creating a nasty cycle.
So… How do we fix this? Well, here are some tips to get you started:
Keep a consistent routine. Kids should be sticking to a sleep schedule with a consistent bedtime and waketime. Start a consistent bedtime routine if you haven’t done so already.
Exercise daily, preferably outside. Physical activity can help boost sleep quality and duration while decreasing the amount of time spent falling asleep. Exposure to sunlight enforces the body’s circadian rhythm, promoting earlier bedtime.
Stop screen use at least 60 minutes before their bedtime. Blue light prevents the body’s natural release of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is important as it plays an important role in signaling the brain that it’s time to sleep. For older kids, remove electronics from their rooms. They don’t need a TV nor should they have their phones next to them when they sleep.
Create sleep associations. “Sleep crutches” or sleep onset associations help children fall asleep more easily. Help them develop independent ones that help them settle themselves back to sleep. By allowing them to read or snuggle with their favorite toy before they fall asleep, it allows their brain to associate that action or item with sleep.
Limit the time children spend in their beds, but make sure their rooms are a happy place where they feel comfortable relaxing. Branching off the previous point, it is important to create a positive association between their beds and sleep, allowing them to fall asleep quicker.
Soothe their anxieties and concerns. Children are sensitive. they’ve probably already sensed the anxiety that’s been floating in the air since the beginning of this pandemic. Instead of only comforting them before they sleep, do it during the day. This will not only fight off negative associations between sleep and anxiety but also help build independence for children’s sleep transition.
School might be opening up in the fall for most places but with talks of new variants, possible outbreaks and a third vaccine shot, we might have to stay inside for a bit longer until the pandemic truly dies down. Stay safe and healthy!