Throughout COVID-19, there have been a number of different constraints on our lives, and now with schools re-opening and new social distancing measures in place, this can, in turn, impact your family’s sleep. When children don’t sleep, parents’ sleep is affected, and your household can end up having an irregular sleep pattern. As well as children not sleeping, the change in routine of school and work can affect parents, especially for those trying to establish work-home boundaries for the first time.
To help guide parents through this time of uncertainty, sleep expert Colin Espie has provided his NHS-approved Top 5 Principles for improving you and your child’s sleep during the Coronavirus outbreak. He recently supported Public Health England with the launch of new guidance on its Every Mind Matters platform which offers practical support to those who have trouble sleeping. As well as sleep, Every Mind Matters supports adult mental wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond.
Take sleep seriously
The quality of sleep that you experience is really important, and therefore it is important to take sleep seriously. It might sound obvious, but the quality of your daytime alertness, energy, productivity, and mood all greatly depend upon sleep. This could involve going to bed early or could actually involve spending less time in bed as this can be counterproductive.
Trying to establish a new routine for your family can be incredibly challenging and you need to try and make sure your children are getting enough sleep on weekdays and weekends. The important thing is figuring out the right space for sleep in your life.
Choose sleep as a priority
Sleep should become a priority for you and your family. Remember, sleep is vital to your good health, wellbeing, and ability to function during the day. We prioritise things by making choices. Work, family and social pressures all come into play, but your need for sleep should also determine your choices about what to do and when.
It’s really about making commitments and setting behavioural goals. There will be times when you’ll be juggling your priorities, but you’ll know you’re selecting your sleep in the right way when you actively choose to sleep over doing something else. With everything that’s happening at the moment, you are likely to see some disruption to your normal routine. This can make it challenging to maintain a regular sleep pattern, but you must commit to winding down and getting into bed.
When it comes to your children, it is so important to create a calming and relaxed environment for them. Bedtime routine should begin one hour before intended bedtime to allow enough time to slow down and begin to get tired.
Personalise your sleep
To personalise your sleep, you just need to experiment to find your best ‘sleep window’. Find out what’s right for you and fits in with you daytime and night-time schedule. This could mean trialling when you go to bed or wake up in the morning. You could also try going to bed for shorter periods of time to see if it boosts your sleep quality, or perhaps getting up at the same time each morning on weekdays and weekends.
I would recommend creating a diary where you can log each day with what does and doesn’t work for you. Just be willing to test what is the best time for you to spend in bed.
Trust in your sleep
We are all designed for sleep, so trust that once you’ve got your pattern into shape that your sleep will work for you. If you set up the right conditions for sleep and if your sleep window is right, your body will find a natural rhythm of sleep.
If you’re lying awake and it’s been around a quarter of an hour or so, then that’s long enough. Get up for a while and go back to bed when you feel sleepy again. Let your body do what it does naturally. Sleep should be just like breathing. Something that you don’t really need to think about. Then you will have established a sleep pattern you can trust.
Protect your sleep
Probably the most important thing that impacts on our sleep is the racing and worrying mind. It’s good to protect your sleep from the things that get in the way. That might be things like too much caffeine, or too much screen-time before or while in bed. Try to unload your mind and wind down before you go to bed. You could do this by writing a list of things that have been on your mind or that can wait till tomorrow, so that your body is prepared mentally before you sleep.
For those of us working from home, and having to use our bedrooms to do so, at the end of the day, try and remove all traces of work and revert the bedroom back to a good sleep environment.
This is a challenging time for all parents and ensuring that you get enough sleep at night is critical to maintaining a healthy mental wellbeing. To find more advice on sleep and supporting your mental health more generally, visit the NHS’s Every Mind Matters website. You can find a wide range of advice and create your own personalised Mind Plan.
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