Not content with colonising our waking lives, coronavirus has invaded the Land of Nod. There are growing reports that the virus has had such an impact on our physical and mental wellbeing it is now infecting our sleep with its malign presence. Medical experts are reporting an increasing prevalence of sleeplessness, even insomnia, as the pandemic impacts our waking habits, with increased screen time, decreased exposure to sunlight and, of course, raised stress levels all contributing to sleeping problems.
Since Covid-19 first emerged numerous medical studies have raised concerns about how the pandemic might affect our sleeping patterns, particularly among children. These studies are now being backed up with evidence, even if anecdotal, that the prolonged lockdown, in all its different forms, is starting to have a serious impact on our children’s sleeping patterns.
Andrea Grace, an expert in children’s sleep problems said her practice had seen a noticeable rise in enquiries from parents struggling with their children’s sleep problems.
“The causes can be all sorts of things,” Andrea explained. “It can be physical or psychological. Changes to our daily habits can have a huge impact. A lot of people have been restricted to their homes, spending more time on screens and less time in fresh air and sunshine. This can have a real impact on our circadian rhythm, the natural process which informs the body that it’s time to sleep or wake up.”
In addition to the physical changes thrust on us by the pandemic there is also the stress of the situation. No one’s life is the same as it was 12 months ago. For some people the change has been manageable, for others it’s been catastrophic. Jobs have been lost, livelihoods and even lives, destroyed. The stress levels that come with this kind of change will inevitably affect every member of the family including children.
So, what can we do about it?
Well, as ever in times of stress, the starting point seems to be the now rather overused phrase ‘don’t panic’. Remember to stick to your routine, whatever that is. Make time to be outdoors, to soak up whatever sunshine the British weather is offering. Make bedtime as happy as possible, turn off screens early, read books to your children and give them your undivided attention for at least half an hour before saying goodnight.
On her website Andrea has published a 10-point plan for getting a good night’s sleep. Detailing some of the points above and a few more. It’s not a bad place to start. Equally, the charity Sleep Council has tips on its website such as slowly adjusting bedtimes to the appropriate time of day, making sure bedrooms are relaxed, dark places and - as ever - cutting down on screen time.
As anyone who struggles to sleep, or is kept awake by their children’s sleeping problems, will tell you, it can be torture. It’s not all bad news though. There are cures and they don’t have to be drastic. If you look carefully, there may even be the odd silver lining to the confinement we continue to go through. As Andrea explains, the change in some people’s routines has thrown up unexpected benefits among families, especially for parents with new-born babies. “I have definitely noticed that in more families, both parents now have an equal bond with the baby and will often say that the time spent hunkering down at home with their newborn baby has been very precious.”