The coronavirus pandemic has upended the natural rhythm of life. It occupies almost every waking moment, from worries about keeping your family safe to quests to find a store with paper towels in stock. It’s important to not let the virus affect your family’s sleeping moments, too.
Amplified stress paired with sudden changes to daily routines can lower your ability to stay healthy and functional. Getting good sleep can boost your immune system and improve your focus and energy. Your immune response is based on the amount of cytokines generated and released while you sleep. Research shows that chronic sleep deprivation can significantly weaken the immune system, making you more vulnerable and reducing your ability to fight back against viruses and infection.
Leila Kheirandish-Gozal, MD, a pediatric sleep specialist at MU Health Care and the director of the MU School of Medicine’s Child Health Research Institute, offers these useful tips to keep your family healthy through improved sleep.
Children no longer have to wake up early for school, and that will help them sleep as much as they need. However, an irregular sleep schedule alters their biological clock. Keeping a consistent sleep/wake schedule keeps circadian rhythms regulated. It’s fine to allow your children to have slightly later sleep and wake hours than they had during school days, just keep the new schedule consistent on weekdays and weekends alike. Also keep a regular schedule of daily activities, such as showering and meal times so the bedtime routine feels normal.
Wake your children every day at the same time and ask them to eat breakfast and get dressed. Exposure to natural sun light regulates the body’s sleep clock and helps improve mood. Encourage your children to play, read or sit outside in the sun if possible. If going outside is not an option, open the curtains to allow sunlight in. Have lunch together — sitting around a family meal helps children feel less isolated.
Most children after age 5 don’t require naps during the day, but toddlers should be allowed to take naps if they feel sleepy. Make sure their nap time is during early afternoon and no longer than one hour, otherwise they will have a hard time getting to sleep at bedtime.
Increased stress can delay sleep. Help your children relax before bedtime by having a nightly routine, such as storytelling, reading or a warm bath. Screen time — whether it’s video games, social media or TV — plays a significant role in interrupting circadian clocks. You can address that by creating an electronics-free zone one hour before bedtime.
Make your child’s bedroom conducive to a good night’s sleep by keeping it cool and dark. A fading night light is a good option if it makes your child worry less at night. Many kids wake up at night to use the bathroom or drink water, and sometimes it’s difficult for them to go back to sleep again. Ask your little ones to use the bathroom before laying down in bed and keep a glass of water next to their bed.
If your children are worried about the coronavirus, explain the measures you have taken to keep them safe at home. Tell them it is OK for them to call for you in the middle of the night. A simple verbal reassurance can make your child fall asleep easier. Nightmares are common during stressful times, but don’t be tempted to let your kids crawl into your bed. Children should fall asleep in their own bed and wake up in the same place.
Finally, give yourself some “me time.” Try to have a few minutes a day away from the family and the news and do something that helps you relax. Put away your electronics at night and only go to bed when you are sleepy. Avoid exercise, alcohol and caffeine during the evening to allow your body to prepare itself for sleep.