I want to start by saying, I know this time is extremely stressful no matter your situation. Many of us are trying to figure out how to work from home with our kids in the house. And that’s if you are lucky and still have jobs to work. Others are currently out of work and trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Many out there are trying to figure out where to get their essential items. Most of us are trying to navigate occupying our children without the convenience of school, playdates, recreation, playgrounds and community support. We are all worried about the safety of our neighbors, family and friends. The last thing I want parents to worry about during this time is their child’s sleep.
With no work and no school, it may seem difficult to maintain your child's schedule all while trying to limit your excursions to the liquor store. I’m not here to tell you that you need to schedule your child’s day minute by minute, but I will suggest a predictable routine to help your child sleep. Let’s remember that proper sleep is one of the best ways to boost mood and health.
So here, are 7 tips to keeping your child on track with sleep:
1. Start your day at the same time as you normally would.
I know, I know… you want your child to sleep as long as possible in the morning. You have spent ALL day attempting to entertain them within the 4 walls of your house. The problem is if you allow them to sleep much past what they are used to, it may be difficult for them to fall asleep at nap time or bedtime. For babies and toddlers, I suggest waking them no more than 12.5 hours after they fell asleep.
2. Honor naps.
Try to keep your child on a similar nap schedule. I’m sure you have heard the term “sleep begets sleep”. It is absolutely true and everyone, including you, needs that time to recharge in this stressful time.
If your child is no longer napping or you notice that they are taking a long time to fall asleep at night when they do nap, you may choose to skip the nap and implement quiet time instead. I suggest starting this time in an increment that you feel your child can manage staying in their room. You can always increase it little by little. If your child uses an okay to wake clock, set it for quiet time as well. You can choose to let your child bring in toys or books to keep them occupied. A little alone time isn’t a bad thing for you or them. If your child does fall asleep, wake them up in 20 minutes before they get into deep sleep.
3. Make sure all kids are getting enough physical activity and sunlight when possible. I recommend 30 minutes of physical activity around 10:00 am and again around 3:00 pm. Sunlight is also so important for good sleep as it helps to regulate our circadian rhythm. Getting natural sunlight increases serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin, which helps us to sleep at night. Luckily, one of he few things we are able to do during this trying time, is get outside in nature (all while keeping your 6 foot distance from others). So whenever possible, get out, go for walks, bike rides, or a game of soccer in the back yard.
Let’s be honest, the days currently may start to seem like ground hog day. Different day, same you know what. A bath before bedtime is a great way to trigger the brain and body to relax because it is so different that the activities that took place throughout the day. Bath’s also lower body temperature just a bit, making it more conducive to restful sleep.
5. No screens before bed.
Now, I am not here to lecture you at all about your screen time over the next few weeks. If you need to watch Frozen 2 on repeat to survive, I'm not judging. However, I do suggest cutting off screen time one hour before bed. Not only are screens blue light harmful to melatonin production, they are also stimulating making it more difficult for your child to fall asleep and increasing likelihood of broken sleep or nightmares.
6. Relaxing bedtime routine.
Along with the no screen rule, also make sure to keep the bedtime routine calm and relaxing. Think, puzzles, blocks, books. Stay away from toys that light up and make a lot of noise and limit horseplay (I'm talking to you, dads). Again, these activities are stimulating and make it more difficult for the brain to relax. Along with a relaxing bedtime, make sure that you are consistent with the routine and bedtime. Keeping things consistent for your child will be reassuring and they will know what the expectation is.
7. Self Care
Lastly, take care of yourself. Manage your own stress. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. The more relaxed you can be, the more relaxed your child will be. Set a good example for your child for how to cope with difficult situations.