Pandemic disrupting your child’s sleep? These scientists-backed tips help little ones nod off

Three years old child crying in bed. Boy hiding and closing eyes with hands
Children may be feeling fatigued if their parents let them stay up late amid the pandemic. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all of our lives to some degree as families cope with isolation, job fears and in some tragic cases the death of loved ones.

While young children may not fully understand the outbreak, months off school combined with anxious parents will undoubtedly have left many feeling unsettled.

If this has affected their sleep, scientists from the University of Florida in Gainesville have put together their expert tips to help little ones nod off.

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Sleepy toddler girl resting her arm in wooden chair while yawning & rubbing her eyes in a cafe.
Yawning is a sign a child may be sleep deprived, along with irritability and difficulty waking. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Sleep is critical for a healthy lifestyle, regardless of a person’s age. Among children, shut eye helps their brain and the rest of their body recharge and develop.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends children aged three to five get between 10 and 13 hours of sleep a day. Those aged six to 12 should aim for between nine and 12 hours of sleep, while teenagers should have eight to 10 hours.

A night tossing and turning may leave children irritable the next day. They may also have a reduced attention span or temporary memory loss.

Other signs of insomnia include difficulty waking, sleeping during the day – outside of any designated nap times, and yawning.

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Long term, insomnia has been linked to everything from obesity and type 2 diabetes to heart disease and depression.

“The pandemic has significantly altered normal sleep patterns for children and teenagers,” the Florida scientists wrote in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“With relaxed schedules, children and teenagers may be going to bed later and sleeping later.

“With a return to more regular schedules, families may need guidance to reset sleep times.”

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Sleep tips for children amid pandemic

The scientists first advise families establish a routine for their children, with a set time for waking, meals, “recreations” and bed.

“School-aged children and adolescents can help create their schedules, but parents must provide healthy boundaries,” they wrote.

So-called “sleep hygiene”, activities that promote healthy shut eye, is particularly important come evening.

“Avoid caffeinated drinks, including soda, tea, and coffee drinks,” wrote the scientists.

“Establish an electronics turn off time at least one hour before bedtime and store them outside the child’s room. This means no cell phone, TV, computer, tablet or handheld gaming systems.

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“Sleep disruption increases just by having electronic devices in the room, even if they are not being used.

“Electronics emit blue light that stimulates wakefulness, as do after-bedtime snacks and drinks.

“Finally, keep sleep spaces dark and cool, but a night light is okay.”

Other tips include using a fan to cool down the room if necessary, as well as reading a calming story and avoiding food or drinks an hour before bed. A small glass of water should be harmless if the child is thirsty.

For children who have been allowed to stay up later than normal during the pandemic, expect it to take a few weeks before they get used to their new routine.

“It is easier to stay up later than to go to sleep earlier,” wrote the scientists.

“Set a wake time goal and gradually move bed time earlier by 10 minutes every three to four days.

“Once a child can fall asleep within 30 minutes of bedtime, move bedtime 10 minutes earlier the next night.

“With each step, move up the wake time.”

The scientists also recommend parents discourage napping among older children and teenagers.

“The sleepiness that builds during the day helps children fall asleep at night,” they wrote.

“If a nap is inevitable, limit it to 20 minutes.”

The scientists recommend parents contact a doctor if their child is unable to adapt to the new sleep routine.

A professional should also be consulted if a youngster’s shut eye is impacted by excessive snoring, gasping, kicking or too much sleep.

While it may be demanding, the scientists stressed parents should not lose heart.

“Adjusting sleep schedules can be challenging at first and will take time to implement,” they wrote.

“Sleep is a critical part of health for children and adolescents, so make sleep a consistent priority and your child will benefit from this for years to come.”

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