Meeting Our Children’s Need for Sleep During Lockdown
Our Children and Young People’s Facilitator, Louise Harris talks about the importance of sleep and how she has helped her five-year-old to get better sleep during the current pandemic.
Lockdown life and the ‘Corona Coaster’ of the ups and downs of the past few months has affected us all. Our children have also been finding it tricky, but as they don’t always have the words or ability to express this, it has been displaying in other ways.
My daughter has struggled to sleep
Since the schools have been closed, I have noticed a huge increase in the amount of support my five year old needs to be ready for sleep and her ability to stay asleep through the night. I have questioned how much exercise she was having throughout the day compared to pre-lockdown times, but even taking her on bike rides and inventing high-energy trampoline obstacle courses in the garden did not seem to have any effect on her waking up in the night or being able to get to sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
Periods of REM and deep sleep throughout the night allow us to wake feeling motivated, refreshed, fit and rested, feeling happy and healthy and ready to start the day. Different periods of sleep are needed: 20% REM sleep to calm strong emotions and 20% deep sleep to allow the brain to switch off and the body to restore itself. To achieve this level of deep sleep, good sleep routines need to start earlier in the day, not just at bedtime.
Exploring the root cause of the issue
When a child goes to bed with unmet emotional needs, they can struggle to fall asleep. When they do fall asleep, their dreams can be intense and vivid, which means that they are unable to self-soothe back to sleep if they wake. The needs of emotional connection and privacy are particularly key to feeling settled at the moment, as children need to have quality connections with families as well as quiet time to discharge their own thoughts and emotions.
How to meet children’s need for privacy
Encouraging ‘action to relax’ types of activities often throughout the day that can be done independently gives children time to have quiet space to settle their thoughts before bedtime. Activities that allow this to happen include:
- Colouring and drawing
- Building blocks and jigsaw puzzles
- Sewing, loom bands bracelets to weave
- Books set up to look at in a cosy space- We call this a ‘story snuggle’ in our house!
Our sleep experiment – What did we change?
As well as thinking about my daughter’s activities throughout the day, I considered her bedtime routine during lockdown. Not only had she had more screen-time than usual, but our day was more fluid, meaning that we were not sticking to a predictable routine as we usually would.
Making positive associations for bedtime is very important, so I decided to create an environment that she would want to spend time and be relaxed in:
- Making sure her bedroom is relatively clear and uncluttered
- Ensuring her favourite cuddly toys were within reach
- Ensuring screens were left off after dinner time
- Spending time reading , telling stories or doing yoga together and talking about the happy things we can do together in the following days.
- Spraying child-safe pillow mist with soft music to fall asleep to.
But what if my child worries before bed?
If your child has worries at bedtime, try talking about putting their worries down, so they know you are not brushing them aside but you will address them when it is the right time. Telling them that you will talk about them after breakfast the next day gives them time to relax knowing that you have not forgotten, but they also do not need to wake up worrying about them.
Did it work?
We have noticed a huge improvement in the quality of our five year old’s sleep, her ability to stay asleep and her happiness in going to sleep since we started thinking about meeting her emotional needs and improving her sleep hygiene habits. Little changes have made a big difference, and although she still sometimes wakes and needs my reassurance, we are having many more restful bedtimes and happier, more settled days.
Author: Ellie Winch