How might the coronavirus pandemic schedule affect my older child’s or teen’s sleep?
Since the beginning of social and physical distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the daily habits of children have changed considerably in many parts of the world. In particular, those daily rhythms marked by school commitments and other extra-curricular activities are no longer in place. Children can become bored, or have difficulty engaging in school work at home. Depending on their age and what is available at home, they may be spending a lot of time on devices, for both school and non-school tasks. Depending on how tired they have become from sleep disruption overnight, they can even have microsleeps (mini-naps – just briefly dozing off) during the day. Daytime microsleeps or even naps associated with the evening use of the devices can result in a delay in falling asleep at bedtime, which in some cases, can lead to a delayed sleep phase syndrome.
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, when a child’s or teen’s sleep schedule is dramatically shifted, can appear in this particular period of social isolation not only due to the lack of rules regarding bedtimes and waking up in the morning, but also due to the increase in intensive use of computers, smartphones, and tablets related to recreational, social, and school connection activities.
Here are a few things you can do to try to prevent your child or teen from shifting sleep later than normal in these long days:
1) Stick with a bedtime between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (depending on age) and waking in the morning no later than 9:00 a.m.
2) Make an agreement about use of electronic devices:
• Limit device use to a reasonable and sufficient number of hours for school activities and “socialization”
• Shift most use of electronics to daylight hours, so the light emitted from devices does not affect melatonin production and your child’s internal clock
• Try to shift activities away from devices, such as printing out homework rather than doing it online
• Entertain children with shared reading of paper books and with board games, rather than relying on video games and other electronics
The difficulties born from social isolation are many, but can be balanced out with family time and other activities. Attention should also be paid to good sleep hygiene for children and adolescents, especially to avoid sleep deprivation. Getting enough sleep plays a fundamental role in the mood of our children and adolescents, a mood already put to the test by the isolation itself.
This post was written in the Spring of 2020. Please follow your local guidelines and advice from family health care providers for appropriate, current coronavirus safety measures.