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Get Some Sleep!

April 15, 2020
by Arietta Slade, Lois S. Sadler and Monica Ordway

“Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth.

For many parents, sleep has been one of the first things to go in the COVID-19 crisis. Worry crowds our waking hours and disrupts our dreams. How is this all going to turn out? Am I going to be laid off? How can I work and home school my children at the same time? Are we all going to be OK?

Our worries and drastic changes in routine have a cascading effect on our children. Babies who have been sleeping through the night are suddenly waking up. Toddlers and preschoolers are climbing into our beds. With schools closed, older children are on screens much more than usual, and bedtimes are—shall we say?—flexible. It’s more like the weekend: no school bus, no breakfast on the fly, no racing out the door. But too much weekend (as most parents know) is trouble. When kids get off schedule, they get cranky, they can’t get going, and they’re no fun to be with. Routines anchor them.

As you can see from the chart above, kids need a lot of sleep. They also need consistent, routine bedtimes. Sleep is an active period when children process the events of their day and renew their bodies and minds (called restorative sleep). Consistent, routine bedtimes allow the human body to maintain a balance between the biological systems that regulate sleep. When these are disrupted due to changes in bedtimes, wake times, or fragmented sleep, it becomes more difficult for children to focus, regulate behavior, and learn new things. Eventually, lack of sleep will affect their health, too.

If you have a bedtime routine that works, try to maintain it as well as you can. If your routines have fallen apart, aren’t really working, or you need to start fresh, here are guidelines for healthy sleep, from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

1. Set a regular bedtime (+/- 15 minutes)

2. Set a regular wake-up time (+/- 15 minutes)

3. Avoid screens and active games for at least an hour before bedtime

4. Adopt a calming bedtime routine. One recommended by the AAP is “Bath, Brush, and Book” (Take a bath, brush your teeth, and listen to your parent read a book.) Or you can listen to calming music together, give them a back rub, etc.

If you’re putting a new bedtime routine in place, the first few nights may be tough. But the payoff will come soon enough: they will sleep well, and you will feel the difference.

Arietta Slade, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, and professor of cinical child psychology at the Yale Child Study Center. Lois Sadler, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a pediatric nurse practitioner, and professor of nursing at Yale School of Nursing. Monica Ordway, PhD, APRN, PNP-BC, is a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Yale Pediatric Sleep Medicine Progra, and associate rofessor of nursing at Yale School of Nursing.

Submitted by Jill Max on April 13, 2020