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Pandemic Parenting: How Much are Your Kids Sleeping?

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If you’re like most families in North America, the last few months have been chaotic.  Kids have gone from rigid bedtimes and wakeups to a more freeform schedule.  Without out-of-the-house activities, days seemed to bleed into one another. And, you may have noticed a shift in your children’s sleep schedules. Many parents have found the shift especially pronounced in teens, as they switch to the later bedtimes and later wakeups that are ideal for their age group, instead of the schedule dictated by the schools.  But even younger children may be sleeping more, taking naps, or waking up later.   What can these changes tell you about your children and their sleep health?

Normal Amounts of Sleep by Age

A child’s need for sleep varies with age.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, elementary and middle school children need 9-11 hours of sleep a night, while high school students need 8-10 hours of sleep.  When a child doesn’t get enough sleep, you’ll see behavior issues, attention issues, frequent napping, and, generally worse school performance and a kid who’s harder to parent.

Many parents are realizing that before the lockdown, their kids weren’t getting enough sleep. Without activities or a set wake-up time, some kids are finally getting the recommended amounts, and they’re a lot healthier and more alert.

But what about the other kids? What about kids who are sleeping a lot more than the recommended amounts? Are they just making up for lost time, or should parents be concerned?

Possible Causes of Too Much Sleeping

There are several reasons why a child might be sleeping too much during the COVID-19 lockdown:

  • Lack of exercise. Lack of exercise can actually make children feel tired and drained.  If your child hasn't been getting out of the house, take advantage of the good weather and help them get active.
  • Anxiety and Disrupted Sleep.  Many kids aren't sleeping through the night anymore. The pandemic has been scary for them, and they may be having nightmares or waking up in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep.  While it's hard, try to find ways to make the current experience as pleasant as possible and to give them a healthy bedtime routine. If their anxiety seems out of control, consider arranging an appointment with their doctor to discuss treatment and therapy.
  • Depression, especially in teens.  Teens have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. This is a time of life when separating from parents, building their own identity, and peer relationships are very important, yet suddenly they’re stuck at home with no human contact and no end in sight. Some kids deal with this by staying in bed and sleeping for excessive amounts of time.  If you have concerns that your child or teen has become depressed, make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss safe options.
  • Sleep Breathing Issues.  If your children are sleeping for long hours but seem better rested than during the school year, they may suffer from sleep-disordered breathing.  When a child can't breathe well at night, they have frequent microarousals where they wake up just enough to disrupt the sleep cycle but not enough to remember waking up.

    These kids need more time in bed to feel well-rested because they’re not getting high-quality sleep.  If you suspect your child might have sleep breathing issues, either their pediatrician or pediatric dentist can screen them at their next appointment.  Identifying and treating these issues now will give your kids a fresh start when schools reopen.