During this time of uncertainty, anxiety and tension can feel like a continuous undertone to the days and nights. Parents want to make sure that their children are feeling as comfortable as possible in an ever-changing environment. The normal routines of school, activities, play dates and sports have been thrown out the window, so parents are left wondering how best to create a new normal.
In a time like this where it feels like control is lost, one thing we recommend is to try your best to focus on what you can control and “control the controllables”. One thing we can control is preparing our bodies and our children’s bodies to optimally support our immune system by optimizing sleep.
While the kids are off from school, optimizing sleep is uniquely challenging
There is no set schedule which decreases the urgency for set bedtimes and waketimes
Sports and social activities which previously “wore out” the kiddos are cancelled
Stress and anxiety are higher, resulting in: trouble falling asleep and returning to sleep due to worry, tension creating vulnerability to more family conflict, and kids asking for co-sleeping and extra hugs and holding at night
Information is disseminated on devices so people are more glued to screens than ever.
Lack of daytime structure increases nap frequency which decreases sleep drive at night and leads to later bedtimes and more sleep problems.
Without typical school hours, learning and homework completion is occurring at night more often and late bedtimes/inconsistent sleep schedules are more pervasive.
Here are four tips to optimize sleep during these challenging circumstances
1. Set a school schedule that the family agrees to take seriously.
Have a family discussion about the schedule and get some level of input and buy-in from the kids so they are more likely to commit (e.g., let them pick 2 break times and lunchtime).
2. Keep a consistent bedtime and waketime for the family on weekdays and weekends.
It is tempting to let the kids stay up later and comfort them with couch cuddles in late evening hours – try to resist this temptation because inconsistent sleep schedules are not ideal for supporting optimal immune system functioning and preparing for eventual return to school.
Remember that optimizing sleep can also help improve mood, behavior and focus when trying to teach the kids the next day.
3. For younger kids still taking naps, keep the nap-times consistent.
It may be easier to “go with the flow” of the day given there is nowhere that you “need” to be, but keeping the nap times consistent will support a successful bedtime.
4. Resist the temptation to be present during sleep transition.
Your kids will try to hop into your bed or want you to stick around while they fall asleep because anxiety and worry is at an all-time high.
Nighttime support is habit-forming and will reduce a child’s independence with sleep transition, which may lead to difficulty with falling asleep and returning to sleep.
Instead schedule time during the day, while your child is alert enough to hear your reassurance, feel the cuddles and experience the security of your attachment and connection. Daytime support and cuddling is more effective and does not create future sleep problems!
Any way you slice it, this is a tough time and everyone is in uncharted territory. Perfect parenting is not an option so everyone can only do the best they can in challenging circumstances. Remember to make time to take care of yourselves as parents! Like they say on the airplane, you have to put the air mask on yourself before you put it on your child.