As schools close and at-home learning begins in earnest for kids because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s important to maintain a consistent schedule that includes healthy sleep habits. Staying home and having more flexibility in our schedules can improve overall sleep health, but some basics to cultivate and maintain good sleep habits are important. Observe the effects on your child’s mood and behavior!

Whether they have busy outside schedules or are confined to home, there are challenges for kids of all ages to maintain a healthy sleep/wake schedule. Irregular bedtimes and early morning wake-up times for school can disrupt a child’s circadian rhythms, the internal biological clocks that help control optimal sleep patterns and many other physical and mental functions. Sleep deprivation and sleeping at the wrong time of the 24 hour day can harm a child’s developing brain, and drowsiness can affect a child’s school performance. Inadequate sleep can also result in bad moods and weakened immune systems.

How much sleep does my child need?

While the amount of sleep your child needs depends on their age, most school-aged kids (6 to 13 years old) should get about 10-11 hours of sleep per night. Younger kids need more sleep, while teens can get away with less sleep.

If your child isn’t getting enough sleep, they’ll exhibit symptoms of tiredness, sleepiness, inattention and mood disturbance. A baby or toddler primarily exhibits the effects of inadequate sleep through fussiness and crying. A school-aged child who is lacking sleep, however, often acts “wound up” or hyperactive. They may become increasingly over-active and resistant as the evening goes on, due to inability to regulate their moods, and their behaviors may be harder than usual to manage.

How to maintain a regular sleep schedule

When we sleep is just as important as how much we sleep, but schedule varies across age groups. Infants and young children (6 months to 7 years) have a biological need to go to bed early and wake-up early while older school age children and adolescents have an increasingly powerful drive to go to bed later and wake up later.

The key to getting a good night’s sleep is preparation. A routine helps children – and frankly anyone – fall asleep and stay asleep.

    1. Select a schedule that is optimal for your child. While these times may seem late for adolescents, there is evidence that it is best for the bodies and developing brains. From night to night, bed and wake times should vary less than an hour and optimally stay the same.
Age Group Bedtime Wake Time
Young children 7:30pm to 8:00pm 6:00am to 7:00am
Young school-aged children 8:30pm to 9:30pm 7:30am to 8:30am
Older school-aged children and younger teens 9:30pm to 10:00pm 8:00am to 9:30am
Teenagers 10:30pm to 11:30pm 8:30am to 10:00am
  1. Establish a bedtime routine and stick to it. A nighttime ritual signals to your child that it’s time to wind down. Setting manageable routines isn’t difficult, but it does help to start early – hours ahead of bedtime, and as young as possible.
  2. Turn off electronics one hour before bed time. Light and light-emitting devices are known to contribute to difficulty falling asleep. Leave a buffer zone of at least an hour before going to bed.
  3. Create a soothing bedroom environment. The best condition for sleep is a cool, dark room (a dim night light is okay), which encourages melatonin production and a drop in core body temperature, which is needed for sleep.
  4. AGAIN! Keep sleep times consistent. Make sure sleep and wake times are consistent even on weekends. The sleep period should vary less than an hour, and weekends should not be considered flexible-sleep zones.

Tips for helping stressed out kids go to sleep

The transition to sleep is a very delicate time, particularly for young children. It involves separation from parents, so it is normal for worries to arise. With the added stress of COVID-19, many children may be experiencing trouble falling asleep. Here are some tips to help them rest their bodies and their minds, particularly during times of high stress.

  1. Spend 5-10 minutes with your child during a quiet time in the afternoon or early evening and talk about what is on their mind. You may have to draw them out with specific questions or even look for stress in how they are playing (e.g., punishing dolls, or playing caretaking roles with a “sick” doll or stuffed animal).
  2. Before bedtime, do a quick check on your stress. Take a few deep breaths and for a brief time, think about letting go of your worries.
  3. Close together time, cuddling and reading together as a family helps calm everyone.
  4. If your child is having persistent trouble sleeping it is okay to back off on fixed rules about sleep habits for a few days or a week.

If signs of sleep disturbance and stress persist, seek the help of a professional.

Pandemic Parenting: COVID-019 and sleep schedules

Get more sleep tips from Dr. Lewin on this episode of Pandemic Parenting, a Facebook Live event featuring Barbara Harrison.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Lewin Daniel S. Lewin, PhD, DABSM is a pediatric psychologist, sleep specialist, and licensed clinical psychologist. He is Board Certified in Sleep Medicine and Behavioral Sleep Medicine and is the Associate Director of the Pediatric Sleep Medicine and Director of the Pulmonary Behavioral Medicine Program at Children’s National and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine.

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