Help Kids Sleep Better While School Is Closed

Consider these ideas to improve sleep during school closures.

Posted Mar 16, 2020

Pixabay Free Images
Source: Pixabay Free Images

Most families across the U.S., like the rest of the world, are facing major changes in their normal daily lives. With schools closed, entertaining children and enabling them to continue schoolwork is a present and growing concern. There also are new challenges associated with increased anxiety from the interruption in their normal routines and worries about the safety and health of themselves, their families, and friends. Here are some suggestions that parents might consider to maintain, and even improve their children’s sleep health during these times.

Staying at home eliminates the necessity to get up early to prepare for going out to school. Children who are homeschooled can have their sleep/wake schedules adapted and optimized. I have often advised parents to use school vacation periods to determine their child’s sleep needs, and the current long “vacation” from school provides another opportunity. Since much research shows that regularity of sleep schedule is very beneficial, parents and children can negotiate and establish new bedtimes and wakeup times. Once those are set, it will become possible to find out how much sleep children need to function at their best. 

One suggestion is to set a fixed bedtime and sleep time and let wakeup time vary. Keep a daily diary to record bedtimes, sleep times, and wake times. While the national issue of school start times is moot for the present, knowing how much a child sleeps and when they naturally wake up without the constraints of preparing for and going to school will help all of us know what school start times are optimal.

Another suggestion is to use this period as an opportunity to assess and upgrade the physical sleep environment. Is the bedroom temperature and humidity level conducive to sleep? Is the bedroom dark enough? Quiet enough? Can the level of potential allergens be assessed and reduced? To that end, bedding, bedroom rugs and carpets, and sleepwear can be cleaned.  

The use of electronic devices before sleep and during the night can be curtailed. Leaving social media messaging on during the night can interrupt sleep during the best of times, and even more so in times of high anxiety such as the present.

Pre-sleep anxieties and worries can make going to sleep and staying asleep more difficult. All children, not just those who normally have anxieties, need to be comforted by their caretakers.  Children need to be assured that they and their families will be safe during this unusual time.  Establishing a new daily home schedule will be one antidote to anxiety. Besides having a consistent time of going to bed and waking up, new schedules of when schoolwork will be done, knowing when mealtimes will be, when other family activities will occur, and so forth will help reduce anxiety as the “new normal” develops.

Adults in the household also need to attend to their sleep health, so the suggestions for improving and maintaining good sleep habits apply to them as well. Making a new, consistent daily routine for children will also be helpful for reducing adult anxiety and stress. Having consistent times of the day devoted to cleaning, cooking, exercise, distance working, family time, and alone time will be helpful. Avoiding constant checking of the news by setting a time and limit on checking up on local and world events can likewise be a strategy for managing anxieties.

Finally, as we grapple with ways to avoid infections, it is wise to remember that sleeping well promotes healthy immune functioning.