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sleep during COVID

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Is your child overtired and cranky? Remote schooling likely plays a role

Q&A: A sleep expert explains how screens can affect day-to-day life.

Sleep during COVID: Are you finding your child heading to bed later and later during this pandemic? Is he or she no longer bouncing out of bed? Screens can and do affect sleep, as do the large amount of time kids (and adults) need to spend sitting in front of them because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Here’s a question-and-answer session on that very topic with Rebecca Michi, a Shoreline-based children’s sleep consultant and author of the book “The Baby Sleep Plan.”

Q: In your opinion, is remote schooling affecting how kids sleep during COVID? 

A: “Not just children, but all of us. We’re not typically acting as we once were. Because being sat down at that screen for the entire time, there’s hardly any movement whatsoever. And even in a classroom, there’s a lot of moving around. It’s the same for us. We’re not necessarily commuting, or we’ll just walk into our kitchen to grab a coffee. It’s very different than what it potentially would be at the office, and that lack of physical activity is certainly going to be having an impact on sleep. That’s one way that it’s going to be negatively impacting sleep because we’re just not as typically tired. 

Trying to get out each day can be really really helpful. Trying to get in natural light as well is going to be helpful for sleep. (That doesn’t necessarily mean sunlight, since we’re probably not going to see that so much, but we can try to get natural light, especially in the morning time. Sitting next to a window is really, really helpful. 

A lot of people will have their school space or office space tucked in their basement where they’re just kind of squirreled away, so they’re not seeing a huge amount of natural light. Getting that natural light — because this helps set up our wake-sleep cycle, our circadian rhythm — being in that natural light, especially in the morning, then getting outside for fresh air in the afternoon is really helpful for melatonin production …

Even if the weather is super-crappy, I think it’s really important to try and get outside and get some fresh air every single day.

If you want the kids to go out, you’ve got to be braving all sorts of weather, so making sure that you’ve got rain gear and trying to get out every single day is now more important than ever, especially because there’s not soccer class and gymnastics and all of these things that we were potentially doing before as well. Trying to get as much physical activity for both parents and children can be can be super-helpful. 

There’s the whole [business of] being sat in front of the screen as well. That is going to be impacting our our sleep.” 

Q: Does screen time itself interfere with sleep?

A: “Being stuck in front of that screen all day, it’s hard for anybody. We’re learning very differently. I think it’s a lot more stressful: a lot of families are finding it incredibly stressful … And that’s going to be negatively impacting sleep. 

Every single aspect of learning from home has the potential for messing up sleep. It really, really does, and it’s something that I’m hearing from a lot of families. It’s: How much should I be worried about this? How much should I be trying to be really strict when it seems like I don’t necessarily need to be really strict?”

Q: What can parents do to regulate sleep during COVID?

A: “Obviously, as a sleep consultant, I’m going to say, “Yeah, we need to be really strict and we always should be really strict with sleep.” But then as a parent of two kids, I’ll say, “Yeah, you know, we can let this slip a little bit.” 

I probably can because it helps them feel a little bit more in control of an inch of their lives because everything is so out of control at the minute. That’s probably a good thing. And, hey, I have two high schoolers. They’re not going to get a time again where they where they can roll out of bed 20 minutes before class starts and do classes in pajamas. So, you know, let’s try and make the best of this!”

Q: Do parents need to have rules about sleep (and especially sleep during COVID)? 

A: “We still need to have our rules, and that will be, maybe, “We’re not going to be watching TV an hour or two hours before we’re going down to sleep,” and could be a rule that is going to stick. Or: “Our latest bedtime is going to be this time on school nights.” And then that is something that we want to stick with, as well as our morning wake time. We want to have a latest time that we have to get up. … We don’t want to be pushing that bedtime too late, even though we’re not as physically active, because when we are missing out on sleep — when children are missing out on sleep — learning is hard to do. The way that they retain things, it’s so much negatively impacted by that lack of sleep. 

It’s hard. Doing online learning is hard, so we really need to try and make that easier. 

We want to make sure your child is getting enough sleep, what they need, and every human being has the optimum amount of sleep that they need to function. 

And we really want to be making sure that your child is getting [enough], so you need to know how much it is. Do they need 12 hours at night? Do they just need 10 hours at night? Do they actually need 13 hours at night? It’s not looking at what their peers are doing. It’s not looking at what your next-door neighbor’s kids are doing. It’s how much sleep they’re getting. 

It’s important that you know how much sleep your child needs to be learning well, and to be a nice, pleasant human being. 

And it’s making sure that that that happens because it’s probably going to be really different between siblings, even if similar ages.”

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About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor is managing editor of the Seattle's Child print magazine. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.