by Angela Youngs, Psy. D.
What happens during sleep?
When we sleep, our bodies are doing more than simply taking a break from the world. Sleep is a critical part of our day and is crucial to our functioning. During sleep, our bodies move through various stages. Our bodies need to move through these stages uninterrupted to be our best selves during the waking hours.
While we sleep, our bodies are repairing muscles, resting, consolidating memories, and releasing hormones needed for growth and regulation. If our bodies have time to complete this process, we will be more successful at home, at school, and interpersonally.
Why are sleep disruptions more common right now?
Sleep is important as it impacts learning and memory, concentration, emotional control, behavior management, decision making, and relationships. There are several reasons why achieving adequate sleep can feel challenging right now:
Changes in Sleep Routines: It can be challenging to maintain consistent sleep routines – especially with changes in our daily tasks. Sleep routines are important as they allow the body to prepare to wind down and enter a restful state. Consider re-establishing a sleep routine, which should include a consistent bedtime, the removal of screens, and the utilization of calming activities (e.g., a bath, a bedtime story, and soothing sensory experiences like calm music or comforting scents).
Increased Screen-Time: It’s no secret – we’ve been spending more time on screens. We’re using screens for work/school, interpersonal connections, and entertainment. It’s great that we have these capabilities, but the impact screens have on our brains, eyes, and overall physical well-being is considerable. Try taking screen-breaks during the day, using glasses that block out the blue light emitted by screens, and building in screen-free time at least one hour before bed.
Decreased Physical Activity: Many of us have had changes in the amount of time we’re physically moving each day. This may be due to limited access to sports teams, closed gyms, and different daily activities. Prior to spending more time at home, children were walking around their classrooms, teenagers were walking from one class to the next, and adults were walking around at work.
That has changed now. We’re using less energy each day, and this extra energy can make it challenging to wind down at night. Try to utilize this extra energy by talking walks in the neighborhood, riding bikes, or even having family dance parties!
Increased Stress: Both children and parents are feeling the added daily stress that comes with dealing with a pandemic, increased isolation, decreased anticipated events (e.g., family vacations, field trips, or graduations), and increased uncertainty about what lies ahead. Added stress and anxiety can impact the ability to fall and stay asleep. Supporting your family through validating conversations, engaging in safe and joyful activities, and seeking outside help from a mental health professional when needed are all ways to help decrease stress and worry and improve sleep.
Adequate sleep is required to maintain the body’s day-to-day functioning. It is also imperative to support a child’s growing mind and body. Helping your child achieve success at night (i.e., consistently getting enough sleep) will help your child achieve success during the day.