Sleep Strategies for Children During Uncertain Times

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By Dr. Aarthi Vemana, Co-Director, Pediatric & Adolescent Sleep Center

Dear Reader,

As the COVID pandemic continues, I wanted to check in with you to make sure you’re doing okay. Since 2020, life has been very different, especially for our children. Online education can be difficult for some children, and not getting enough sleep can make it even harder for children to learn.

There are a lot of strategies you can use to help your children get more sleep, starting with some knowledge. A recent study asked parents how much sleep they thought their child needed. The results showed that parents who answered with higher amounts of sleep had children who actually did sleep more. So knowing how much sleep your children should get can help you to make sure your child is getting more sleep.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following daily healthy sleep durations for children:

4 to 12 months old
Should sleep 12 to 16 hours (including naps)

1 to 2 months old
Should sleep 11 to 14 hours (including naps)

3 to 5 years old
Should sleep 10 to 13 hours (including naps)

6 to 12 years old
Should sleep 9 to 12 hours

This article, published during the pandemic, outlines some great ways in which you can help keep your child’s sleep on track, including:

Keep a sleep schedule.
This includes not only having a regular bedtime, but also a regular wake-up time. Trying to catch up on sleep by sleeping in can make it more difficult to fall asleep at your regular bedtime.

Come up with a soothing and calming bedtime routine.
This should include activities that both parents and children enjoy doing together and something that you can easily do every night (so make sure it’s not too complicated).

Make sure computers, smartphones, and tablets are not being used in bed.
It’s tempting to attend virtual classes from the comfort of a bed, but that may make it more difficult for your child to go to sleep at night. Their brains should be trained to recognize their bed as a place for sleeping.

Take a break from electronics before bed.
This will help not only to limit blue light exposure (which can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime outside), but helps avoid seeing stressful news, which can make it difficult to fall asleep.

So how can you keep track of how much your child is sleeping? There are a lot of devices and apps that track sleep, some of which are more accurate than others. However, a recent study found that a low-tech option can provide some helpful information. Keeping track of your child’s sleep patterns using a paper sleep log can help you to pay attention to the details of how the day went, what happened with the bedtime routine, and other details that electronically tracking sleep won’t provide. A combination of both a paper sleep log and sleep tracking technology might work best.

Thankfully, there is a nationwide goal for safely reopening schools for in-person learning, providing families some hope that life will be getting back to normal. Until then, I know you’re doing your best to support your children, but please make sure you’re balancing supporting your children and families with some forgiveness for yourselves as well!

Dr. Aarthi Vemana

As the only American Academy of Sleep Medicine accredited sleep center in Northern Virginia, the specialists at Fairfax Neonatal Associates’ Pediatric & Adolescent Sleep Center evaluate and treat sleep-related problems specific to pediatrics and adolescents. Patients, ages 20 and younger, are seen by board-certified Pediatric Pulmonologists who are dedicated to fully treating a wide range of sleep disorders, including restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and more.

Learn more about Dr. Aarthi Vemana, this post’s author here, and all of Fairfax Neonatal Associates’ providers here. Connect with their Pediatric & Adolescent Sleep Center online or by calling (703) 226-2290.

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