Updated: May 5
I am hearing from so many parents at the moment that their children's sleep has regressed. Kids that use to sleep through the night and now crawling into their parent's bed. Kids that have been going to bed easily for years and now coming out 10 times to tell you something they forgot or to get their 5th glass of water. Some kids who normally have peaceful sleep are having nightmares. Regression in sleep is a tell tale sign of stress. With children, they may not even know what is causing them stress. However change is stressful, not knowing when things will go back to normal is stressful and having parents who are struggling with their own worries is stressful.
More than ever kids need to feel closeness, safety and reassurance. Having extra cuddles to help sleep could be how they are dealing with it. Coming out of their room over and over could just be the reassurance they need to know that you are still there and everything is okay. While these things are normal under stressful situations and will most likely pass as the world goes back to normal, sleep is still very important. Especially as we don't know how long Covid-19 pandemic will last. We don't want short term sleep disturbances to turn into a long term problem.
Tips and Tricks
1. Limit screen time: I know that I speak a lot about issues that screen time has, especially the impact on developing brains, but it really is important. There is so much research now to show that the blue light emitted from screened devices will decrease the production of your body's melatonin. Basically your melatonin helps you go to sleep. When there is blue light the body thinks that it is day time and stops melatonin so that you will stay awake. I know that parents get desperate and give their kids an ipad in bed to "calm" them down, but really you are making it more difficult for them to sleep. Screens should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime.
2. Calm together time: If we spend connected time with our kids before bed then they will feel less need to come out of bed and be able to sleep peacefully. Try and avoid the bedtime rush. I know that now that kids are home all the time, parents may be desperate to get their kids into bed so that they can finally have some time alone. But if we invest a little more time in keeping things calm as the kids go to bed we are more likely that everyone will get a better night sleep.
Spend time having snuggles and talking about the day. It is a good idea to add gratefulness to your bedtime routine. Even though things might be scary, there are always things to be grateful for. Everyone, including parents can take turns saying what they are grateful for. This will turn their attention to the positives which is particularly important before sleep. Also don't skip story time. Reading a story together, even for older children will help them activate their imagination in a positive way and help them dream.
3. Journal: We know that when the distractions of the world have stopped, it can be hard to get your brain to stop too. Writing down your thoughts gives your brain a break. You no longer feel that you have to remember everything because it is written down. For older children this can work well to put their thoughts to rest at bedtime
4. Bedtime passes: For the kids who are coming out of bed 10 times after you have tucked them in, having a set number of times that they are allowed to come out of bed can be helpful. Not only do they feel reassured that they can come out if they need to, but if there is a limited number then they can evaluate if they really need to come out. Don't make it too hard. Give them the number of passes they will be comfortable with. As they come out they have to hand one to you. As they get better at this, over time you can reduce the number of passes they can use each night.
5. Mail box: Some kids just find at night is when they remember everything they "have" to tell you. It feels really important and they just can't sleep till they tell you. Older kids might be able to journal but this is too much for younger kids.
Have them make a mail box. Just cover an empty tissue box and cut a flap in the back so that you can open and close the box to get the letters out. Have pen and paper next to their bed and if they remember something that they want to tell you, they can write it or draw it and mail it to you. In the morning you can go through the letters together.
6. Worry Monster: Letting go of worries can be difficult, especially at night alone in bed. A way that kids can learn to release worries is to make a worry monster. Again using and empty tissue box, cover and decorate it with the opening as the "monster's" mouth. The child can then write or draw their worries and "feed" them to the monster. This activity helps children to tangibly notice their thoughts and choose to release them. Obviously this is a friendly pet monster but if you don't want it to be a monster it could be a pet dog or anything really.
These are just a few strategies that I've used with kids over the years. You need to find what will work for your child. You might like to use a combination, for example the passes and the mailbox for when they have run out of passes. Get your kids involved, what do they think will help? Most importantly we need to do what is best for our kids and our family and what that looks like for one family will be different for another. In the end, this too shall pass. So hold on, you will get through it.