How to ensure Good Sleep for Children & Teenagers during the Covid-19 pandemic
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
There are plenty of reasons why the Covid-19 lockdown may be distressing to children and teenagers; anxious parents, no school, reduced opportunity to get outside, missing friends, more time with siblings, anxiety about exams and assessments. Conversely, some children may be less anxious and more contented; more time with mum and dad, feeling enhanced rest with later wake times, less pressure from school and difficult peer dynamics. The Covid-19 lockdown has elicited a whole host of different reactions in people. Difficulties sleeping may be one way our children are affected. Luckily, there are many ways to help improve sleep.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do let your teenager wake up a little later than usual. Teenagers have a delayed circadian phase compared to children and adults and they do not naturally become tired until later in the evening. In order that your teenager gets sufficient sleep it is important that they have enough time in bed to achieve this. Teenagers should be getting 8-10 hours' sleep a night. If they go to bed at 10.30pm then perhaps consider letting them get up between 8am-8.30am. It may suit you to start the day earlier (or not!) but your teenager may benefit from shifting the school day a bit later. In fact, research has shown that shifting school start times by just 1 hour later can be beneficial to teenagers’ well-being and concentration. Perhaps one benefit to the lockdown could be that your teenagers have a school day with timings which suit their circadian clock better. This will leave them feeling better rested and more able to concentrate. Remember, you can still keep the structure of the school day, without sticking strictly to the same timings. This is a chance to make the timings of your day work for your whole family.
Don’t let your kids stay on their tablet/phones until bedtime. Many parents allow their children to have TV/iPads and mobile phones at the end of the day. This does not have to be a problem, BUT it is important to make sure they have at least 45 minutes at the end of the evening when they are not using their electronic devices. Firstly, electronic devices emit blue light which can inhibit melatonin production (and we need melatonin to initiate sleep). Secondly, the content of whatever your child is looking at is often mentally stimulating at a time when we need to send relaxing, restful messages to our brain.
Do let your children talk to their friends on social media – just not right before bed. Social interactions may be very enjoyable, however they are often highly stimulating. It is important for children and young people to keep connected with their peers during the lockdown, however, it can become an obstacle to getting the rest they need. Teenagers may even be waking up in the night to check messages. In addition, it is not uncommon for teenagers to find social interactions distressing. If something upsetting comes up it is important to be around to support them with it and help them to wind down before going to bed. All phones should be off and out of reach at bedtime. If your teenager will not part with theirs then try to encourage them to turn it off 45 minutes before bedtime. They should be as relaxed as possible just before bed.
Don’t let your children do their school work on their beds. It may look like they are well set up and relaxed in their rooms on their beds but doing any work on the bed confuses the function of that environment. When it comes to bedtime, they may have developed an association between “bed” and “studying” whereas we want to foster the association between “bed” and “sleep”.
Do encourage your kids to exercise. The quality of our sleep is as determined by what we do in the day as well as at night. The more active your child is in the day (mentally and physically) then the more tired they will be at bedtime and the more likely they are to sleep better.
Don’t let them sleep in for hours at the weekend. You may be trying to differentiate between weekdays and weekends by allowing them to stay up later and sleep in longer. However, this can lead to “social jetlag” - when we have one routine during the week and a very different routine at the weekend. Come Sunday evening/Monday morning it can be very difficult to get back into the desired weekday routine, leading to tired, grumpy children on Monday morning. The problem is that if you are waking up at midday on Sunday, you will not have developed sufficient “sleep drive” (the stuff that makes us feel sleepy) to fall asleep easily on Sunday evening. This can lead to another late night on Sunday and either a late rise on Monday, or a tired teenager who has been made to get up before they have had sufficient sleep! It is ok to adjust their routines by 30mins-1 hour at the weekends but any more than that and it will be difficult to adjust back come Monday morning.
Do encourage your children to relax before bed – put aside an hour before bedtime for family relaxation, reading and listening to music. Apps such as CALM and Headspace are very useful for finding relaxation exercises that you can do at home.
Do model winding down before bed to your children. Children observe the behaviour of adults around them and copy them. If they see you prioritising rest and relaxation then they will be more likely to do this themselves.
Do encourage your children to talk to you about any concerns that they might have.
Listen to them
Tell them that you understand their concerns
Empathise – tell them that you can see why they are feeling that way
If they cry, let them. Show them that it is normal to feel worried sometimes and that you are not fazed by this.
Reassure them (e.g. "We are all well and safe here together"
Encourage them to focus on what they can control (and not what they cannot control)
Do Create Space for children to express their concerns. This may mean that you hang about at bedtime for slightly longer (This is often when concerns are voiced). You can ask them how they are feeling but just being there, showing interest in them, will help them to feel they can talk to you about anything they are worried about. It is helpful for them to feel that they can throw anything at you and you will be able to manage it.
Don’t chastise yourself for feeling anxious. You may be worried that you child is seeing you in a vulnerable place right now. Perhaps you are feeling more anxious and agitated about the current situation. Feelings of anxiety right now are normal and appropriate. It is ok for your children to see that you have appropriate concerns about the current situation. It is also ok for you not to be a perfect parent all of the time!
Do look after yourselves and seek help for your own anxiety. Children & teenagers pick up on anxiety and if you are feeling overwhelmed most of the time and finding it difficult to cope, then your children may pick up on this and feel anxious too. It is ok if you feel anxious sometimes and it is ok for your children to see this but they need to believe that you have it under control. If you don’t feel that you have it under your control – seek help from your GP.