The crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused increased stress levels around the world. We are suddenly confined to one space, children are being kept at home and concerns and worries about loved ones is real.
This easily leads to disrupted family routines, increased risk of disruptive sleep (even in people who usually sleep well). We know good sleep is essential to health in normal times, it becomes even more so in this period of stressful uncertainty.
So, what can we do to try and help all families stay on track with their sleep health during such tentative times?
Routines give babies and children a sense of security. Knowing what’s on the schedule provides them with a road map for their day. That knowledge helps put their minds at ease and helps them feel secure. Even though we have had to make changes to accommodate quarantine life, it is still important to keep things as predictable and consistent as you can.
In my case, and in the case of nearly every other parent I know, we’ve slightly upped screen time (by about three thousand percent). None of us are thrilled about it. We would all like to be the Instagram influencer parents who are using this time to teach their children to make sourdough bread. As we all know, those people are a little reluctant to show us real life. So, for those of us in the reality, extra screen time for the children might just be the difference between a peaceful afternoon and a mutual meltdown.
Just one caveat; screens emit a lot of blue light which can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Let your children indulge in extra screen time, but turn them off two hours before bedtime. (The screens, not your children!)
When it comes to mealtimes, again, try to stay as consistent as possible. Few things affect our bodies’ sense of timing like when we eat. Allowing meal and snack times to fluctuate too much can upend your little one’s schedule.
Sugary snacks will likely leave them with too much energy at bedtime and the occasional upset tummy. So keep an eye on what they are asking for leading up to bedtime.
With everyone being housebound, your children are likely going to have a ton of excess energy. With no playground to frolic in and no friends to chase around, you’re going to need to get creative to help them tire themselves out.
Getting outside is a good idea if you can. Sunlight will help maintain the circadian rhythm. A bike ride or even a brisk walk can help reduce feelings of confinement and keep you and your children from going stir crazy.
If getting out is not an option then open your windows and expose yourself to sunlight as much as possible. This can be good for improving your mood and regulating your body clock.
Now, since many of us are no longer under any obligation to get up for work and school, we might get to thinking that this is a good opportunity for everybody to catch up on some sleep by turning off the morning alarms. I’m tempted to do so myself, to be honest, but sticking to the usual bedtimes and wake up times is really important.
Predictability and structure are, again, sources of comfort for our children. So even though there’s no morning bell, it’s still a good idea to keep things on schedule. Besides, things are eventually going to go back to normal, and trying to get them back onto their usual schedule is going to be a challenge.
As you undoubtedly know, children are perceptive little creatures. They probably know that there’s something serious happening at the moment. They might not bring it up too much, but there’s likely something pinging around in the back of their heads that has them a little bit on edge. This can be amplified if they see that their parents are concerned and on edge as well. So if possible try to keep the atmosphere cheery and light.
I know it’s not easy given the circumstances, but stressed out children aren’t going to improve the situation. If they have questions about COVID, of course you should be honest and forthcoming, but your attitude towards things will work wonders in keeping their minds at ease.
Bad news in the media can create anxiety. Try not to watch the COVID news coverage with the children around. They’re always listening and hearing terms like, “death toll,” and “fatal disease” is going to increase their stress levels. It’s important to stay informed, but some of this news can be heard once they have gone to bed.
It is crucial you try to use your online social networks to seek support from friends and family to keep your spirits up and maintain your mental health. This is especially important children are missing family members. Or even if you are a single parent just needing to rant to an old friend about your day.
For now, try to stay relaxed and in routine. Keep washing your hands, stay at home, and make the best of this lockdown. Who knows, we may end up remembering this time as a unique opportunity to make even more special connections with our children.