Rebecca Kempton, M.D.
Founder, Baby Sleep Pro
Sleep is as important a biological function as breathing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sleep seems even more important because of its wide ranging physical and psychological benefits.
Here are five reasons why sleep is so important for you and your family, and especially so during these unsettling times:
1. Immune function
Getting optimal sleep can strengthen the immune system which helps to fight infection. Some studies have even shown that lack of sleep can make vaccines less effective.
2. Brain function
During sleep, neural connections are made which helps cement learning and create memories. Many studies have shown that children who get sufficient sleep are better problem solvers, more creative and flexible thinkers, and have greater academic success. Conversely, sleep deprivation interferes with memory acquisition, making learning and retaining new things almost impossible. When well-rested, we are able to more easily adapt to changing circumstances, stay sharp, learn and retain information, and make complex decisions more effectively.
Young children and babies have an especially low tolerance for lack of sleep, causing them and everyone around them to be irritable, angry, and easily upset. As a parent, ensuring sufficient sleep helps you regulate your own mood to better help your children.
Anyone with a toddler who has woken up a little too early, stayed up a little too, or missed a nap, knows the dreaded consequences. The New England Center for Pediatric Psychology has coined the term “Faux ADHD” to describe children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, but whose behaviors are in fact directly linked to two detrimental sleep behaviors. In up to 35 percent of cases, sleep deprivation is misdiagnosed as ADHD.
5. Mental health
Although it may seem daunting to maintain healthy sleep habits with so many other day-to-day challenges, try to take small steps to help you and your children get enough sleep so that your family stays well-rested and healthy.
Here are some tips for establishing or maintaining healthy sleep habits in unsettling times:
1. Establish consistent sleep schedules and routines
Ensure your baby is getting sufficient naps during the day; establish a consistent sleep time routine like reading or singing songs; and maintain a regular bed and wake time.
2. Get exercise, fresh air, and natural light
Exercise and fresh air make us all feel and sleep better, and natural light help regulate our daily rhythm clock. Schedule a regular time to get outside for a walk. Early morning hours tend to be less crowded on the streets making it a great time for a stroll. If outdoor exercise is not possible, try an exercise app or just some stretching or running in place at home. When inside, open the blinds and try to be near a window if working or playing with your baby.
3. Limit screen time
This can be challenging since work and school from home require more screen time than we are all used to. The blue light from screens, TVs, tablets, computers, phones prevents the release of melatonin, the internal sleep hormone which in turn makes it difficult to fall into sleep. As much as possible. avoid screens for both you and your child within a couple of hours of bedtime.
4. Role model kindness and calm
Show your kids how you manage your own uncertainties using relaxation techniques like deep breathing, calming music, meditation, reading, stretching, and exercise. Talk about things we can control such as how we talk to and interact with others. Schedule phone calls with family and friends to talk about non-coronavirus-related topics.
More tips to help your baby sleep at night can be found at the American Sleep Association.