3 Tips for Parent Sleep Struggles During the Pandemic
Can you believe it’s been a whole year since the world shutdown? Many of us have spent a whole year quarantining and going to work and school from home. Throughout this global pandemic we have found positives - more time with our immediate families, more time to bake and craft. However, we can’t deny that there have been struggles we could have never predicted. Parents must now work from home while taking care of their babies and homeschooling their children and worrying about everything.
Is it just us or does it seem like somehow we’re getting less sleep than ever even though we’re all stuck at home? Parents are anxious and kids have a whole year’s worth of pent up energy. It’s no secret that new parents often struggle to get enough sleep - add a pandemic into the mix and sleepless nights are only becoming more frequent. This is incredibly concerning when you consider that good sleep is one of the most important factors in staying healthy and supporting your immune system
In this article, we’ll discuss why both parents and kids are struggling to get enough sleep right now and provide some helpful ways for the whole family to get better sleep.
Disruption of Daily Life
Better sleep starts with a solid schedule. Unfortunately, a lot of our routines have been disrupted since last year. With work and school taking place at home, it can be tempting to stray from normal routines. One study found that during lockdown, children ages 4 through 6 went to bed and woke up almost an hour later on weekdays compared with a similar group in 2018. When kids don’t get enough sleep it can affect their ability to learn, behave, and feel. It can also affect how much sleep their parents are getting.
The best way to battle this is to stick to routines like you did before the pandemic. Set a schedule for each day that includes your morning routines, meal times, nap times, school/work commitments, and of course bedtime. We’re not going to sugarcoat it - after a year of disarray your kids will try and fight this. And let’s face it, we as parents might be over it too, but routines can help to improve everyone’s daily mood. Wake up at a consistent time, get dressed out of PJs every day, and always let your kids know what’s on the agenda next! You can even make or buy a large daily calendar and make it fun with colors and stickers to get your kids to participate in daily planning. Getting your daytime routine down will help your bedtime routine fall in order. Everyone in the house can benefit from a wind down routine before sleep. This can include bath time, quiet play, and reading to help your mind and body get ready to transition into sleep.
Excess Screen time
Before the coronavirus outbreak only 8% of kids spent more than 6 hours online per day. Today this number has skyrocketed to over 49% of kids spending 6+ hours online per day. It’s important to note the AAP recommends no screentime for children under 2 and less than an hour per day for those older. However, we know that sometimes this is just impossible - school is online, birthday parties are on Zoom, and sometimes moms just need the 15 minutes of distraction that TV can provide. We get it. However, too much screen time can backfire for both children and adults. Staring at our computer and phone all day overstimulates our brain and the blue light from these devices can actually decrease our body’s natural supply of melatonin, making it much harder to fall asleep at night.
Cutting down to an hour or less of screen time per day probably isn’t possible right now, but not all hope is lost! There are steps to take to both reduce screen time and get out some of that extra energy. Try to get outside with your kiddos at least once a day. Even if playgrounds are still closed, family walks or bike rides in the neighborhood are still a great way to get your body moving. Natural light will also have a positive affect on your circadian rhythm (this is especially important for babies who are still dealing with day/night confusion!) Another easy way to reduce screen time for both you and your little ones is to swap out family TV time for reading before bed.
Anxiety & Depression
Many new moms already struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety. For some, COVID-19 has only exacerbated mental health issues. As parents, we’ve always worried about our kids, but now we have to worry about finances, health, and all of the uncertainty that comes with a pandemic. Social distancing has also taken a toll. In the past, new moms may have sought help from nearby relatives for childcare or support, but now they are largely isolated.
From the time you’re pregnant, your little ones can sense your emotional state. The uncertainty and change brought on by the pandemic has our kids more stressed than ever, but we can control our reactions and words as parents. Use relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or hobbies you can do from home to manage your anxiety (and have your kids participate with you!) If you notice your kids or spouse seems stressed or sad, encourage them to talk about their feelings and fears and normalize this by talking through your own. Although many of us can’t see our loved ones for holidays or important events like baby showers, we can still stay in touch via phone or video. Staying connected to friends and family is more important than ever for both you and your kids. Feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation, greatly impact our sleep and can increase nighttime accidents and nightmares in children. That’s why it’s so important to manage your emotions during the day to ensure you don’t stay up worrying at night. And never be ashamed to seek professional help and counseling, times are tough and we all need support.
Parents often forget, but taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your children. While routines have shifted and the world around them has definitely changed in the past year for little ones, kids are so adaptable and resilient. As adults, we do our best to shield our kids from the stress, but during a long lasting pandemic that certainly is taking its toll. In the past year, our households have become closer than ever which means our little ones are observing us every second of every day. Stick to your morning routine even though it’s tempting to stay in PJs and answer emails from bed, choose a book before bedtime instead of your phone, and know that it’s okay to be scared and sad right now, but there is a light at the end of this pandemic. Schools and offices will reopen and we will hug our friends and family without fear. But until then, get some good rest.