Earlier this year, we set out to discover exactly how the pandemic has been affecting the sleep schedules of Americans.
The results? We found out over 69% of our respondents admit they are not satisfied with how they are sleeping, and don’t know how to sleep better.
Using data to understand changes in sleep patterns during the pandemic is the best way to find solutions to improve sleep quality and self-care during turbulent times.
We sat down with sleep experts Jennifer Hines and Joan Canning, to talk about why the pandemic has impacted everything from parenting styles to sleep cycles.
Here’s what they have to say about why families need to prioritize sleep more than ever, and what we can do to sleep better.
Thank you for sitting down and taking the time to talk to us. Before we get started. Can you let our readers in on a little more about your backgrounds and areas of expertise?
Jennifer Hines: My husband Micah and I recently moved our family, including our daughters Madison (12) and Willow (6) from Little Rock, Arkansas to Anchorage.
I graduated from The University of Central Arkansas in Conway, with a Major in Telecommunications and a Minor in Music. Right now, I work as a sleep expert for Alaska Sleep Clinic, where I specialize in writing about how to sleep better.
Joan Canning: When I decided I wanted to be a sleep consultant and eventually run Sleepytime Support, I chose to get trained with the Gentle Sleep Coach Program because the GSC is the most comprehensive training around.
The methods used are in line with what I use on a personal and professional level. That’s when I created Sleepytime Support, to help families navigate through infant, toddler, and child sleep issues.
Both of you have backgrounds in sleep cycles within the context of families. How are you finding the pandemic has affected families across the board, wellness wise?
Joan Canning: Raising children is hard. Raising children while trying to work from home is even harder. Raising children while trying to work from home during a lockdown is downright difficult! Nobody expected 2020 to turn out the way it has.
Dealing with the lockdown situation, which has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, is a hugely stressful thing. No surprise, this level of ongoing stress can take its toll on parents and cause a variety of negative health implications.
Jennifer Hines: The teenage years are already filled with tremendous hormone changes and brain development that affects mood. Throw in months of being stuck at home, worrying about coronavirus, and online school, and you have a recipe for mental disaster in many young people right now.
Teens who are struggling with sadness or even depression may in fact be struggling to clock enough time to sleep better each night.
When we talk about the pandemic giving rise to poorer sleep hygiene habits. How exactly is a lack of sleep affecting us during the pandemic?
Joan Canning: Young parents who used to work outside of the home have had to make huge changes in the face of the pandemic. When children don’t get adequate sleep for their age, the results can be misbehaviors and difficulty focusing or learning.
The same is true for adults as well - our body needs to sleep better for memory organization, physical restoration, and overall well-being. Our immune systems are greatly affected by our sleep, or lack of it.
Jennifer Hines: A lack of sleep can cause a teen to lack the ability to control emotions, impulses, and mood. Depression is not a normal part of growing up. Sleep deprivation can cause lasting effects on the mental well-being of even the most resilient teen.
Teens who are predisposed to depression will have a more difficult time with the side effects of no sleep.
We’ve always known sleep is tied so closely to mental health and wellness. What can we do, on an individual level, and within our own family units, to improve our sleep cycles?
Joan Canning: In order for our children to be cared for and thrive, we must be cared for and allowed to thrive. We are all capable of self-care, but sometimes (or should I say most of the time), as parents, we put our own needs last on the list. Self-care has unfortunately become a luxury for a lot of primary caregivers.
All families must learn to balance rest and sleep better. Whether we are in a pandemic or not, we all have a circadian rhythm. Our inner biological clocks dictate to us how we feel throughout the day and night based on the rise and fall of hormones.
You can actually help your body sleep better at night, by what you do throughout the day. Whenever possible, take breaks from the screen. Follow the 20-20-20 rule (every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds).
Turn off computers, tablets, TVs, and other devices that emit blue light after 6pm. The production of melatonin is negatively affected by those blue screens.
Create a new routine for the evening that includes things like reading, artwork with the children, or taking a neighborhood walk as the sun sets. A warm bath with or without the kids can also help everyone prepare for an evening of restful slumber.
Jennifer Hines: Having morning and evening routines will help get your body in the rhythm of knowing when it’s time to wake up and start the day and when it’s time to wind down for sleep. When you first wake up, have a list of a few things you’d like to accomplish to help you prepare for the day.
The same goes for your evening – try to set a calming routine every night. This could consist of reading, drinking warm tea, or using aromatherapy, but you should stay off of your phone and away from the TV for at least an hour before bedtime.
REM sleep helps to contribute to emotional regulation, learning and memory. When you sleep better, you help the brain to digest what was learned during the day as well as helping moods to be stable.
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to talk to us about this. Do you have any last words of advice for our readers?
Joan Canning: Remember, the self-care routines that work for one person, might not work for another. Experiment to find what works for you. Again, self-care is not selfish. It is a tool that will help you be healthy, get better sleep, and make your life less stressful.
Jennifer Hines: If you think about it, regulating your emotions is hard to do when you are sleepy. The best solution for depression linked to sleep deprivation is to sleep better. The solution is easier said than done, but a priority should be placed on getting enough sleep - now more than ever.
During turbulent times, prioritizing comfort and care is no longer a luxury - it becomes necessary for wellbeing. Making sure you have the best mattress for a good night’s sleep, encouraging healthy sleep hygiene habits in your children, and making sure you’re sticking to a disciplined sleep schedule is going to go a long way during these stressful times.
How have you been handling parenting during the pandemic? Leave a comment below for your thoughts, tips you’ve found useful, or questions you might have for our sleep experts to answer next time!