How do we get our sleep schedules back on track during the coronavirus pandemic?
Changes in and disruptions to sleep schedules are very common right now. Almost all families are having to adapt to changes in schedule and routine in response to COVID-19 (the coronavirus). Many childcare centers and schools are closed, parents and older siblings who are typically away during the day are now staying home, activities are cancelled, and in-person contact with loved ones, such as grandparents and friends, may be on hold. In addition, emotions may be running high in both adults and little ones. All of these transitions can lead to changes in sleep schedules, such as later bedtimes and wake times, nap refusal, or difficulty settling to sleep.
Rather than focusing on getting “back on track,” adapt your previous sleep routine and schedule to accommodate your current home situation. While it is important to keep a relatively consistent schedule and routine that allows your child to get enough sleep, you can make any number of adaptations that may work well for your family’s situation. These adaptations might include:
• Later bedtimes and wake times for the whole family. Keep in mind, however, that most young children are not wired to sleep-in, and so later bedtimes could result in the same wake time as before (and thus less sleep!). In this case, prioritize keeping your younger child’s or baby’s earlier bedtime, or see if your little one will nap longer in response to less nighttime sleep.
• If your young child is sleeping less at night, encourage more or longer naps. Remember that, in younger children, it is the total amount of sleep over a 24 hour period that matters (naps + night time sleep).
• On the flip side, some children will be less likely to nap or take shorter naps with more family members and activity at home. In this case, try an earlier bedtime. This can help a little one who is resisting sleep at bedtime because he is overtired, and can get him a bit more sleep overall.
• Involve siblings in nap routines, or even have older siblings go to their rooms for quiet time while a younger child naps.
• Increasing your child’s activity level through exercises and games earlier in the day can help them be a bit more ready for sleep when it’s naptime or bedtime.
• Add some structure to your child’s day (that is, meal time, craft time, play time, exercise time) to provide predictable cues for when bedtime and nap time will occur. This does not have to mean scheduling every 30 minutes of your child’s (or your) day -which may add stress for you!-, but could simply be a general order for types of activities.
• Be sure to consider whether household noise and activities are disrupting your little one’s sleep. A source of white noise in your child’s room (fan, air purifier, white noise machine, or app) may help.
Don’t forget that changes in sleep patterns and duration are normal as your child grows. What will happen when this pandemic recedes and your day-to-day schedule changes again? You can transition back to your previous schedule, or you may discover that some aspects of your “new” sleep schedule work even better!
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.