Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the WHO declaring it a global pandemic, some of the measures used globally to reduce the spread of the virus are social distancing and lockdown measures.
The lockdown had everyone at home, both adults and children, with workplaces and schools, closed down. Everyone was confined and forced to stay in their homes to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus, while most of the activities, including schooling and working, moved online.
While those strict measures were necessary for the fight to reduce the spread of the virus and the pressure on health workers and the health system, it also had its side effects. There were legitimate concerns that a prolonged stay at home because of an outbreak can affect individuals’ mental and physical health, including children.
This lockdown restriction can disturb their well-being and overall health as it reduces their level of physical activity and the exposure to daylight that they get. This social isolation is also capable of increasing their stress levels. All of these sudden changes are capable of affecting the sleep and wake pattern in children and their circadian rhythm. Anyway, if you want to encourage your kids with the technical gadgets, you can always look through other ways to spend your leisure time together. Going into the forest or to the playground together is a great way to have more quality time together.
Sleep is known to be crucial for the well-being and health of adolescents and children. Yet, the lockdown has been a significant cause of sleep problems in children these days. The emergence of sleep disturbance is strongly related to shielding and isolation, which could cause sedentary behaviors, lead to weight gain, and increase food consumption. Also, these disturbances may be associated with stress levels caused by likely changes in the financial conditions of their family, uncertainties about the future, and health concerns.
We also have to consider how social distancing and remote learning can reduce sunlight exposure and give room for more sleep and wake time flexibility. This increases the opportunity for longer daytime naps and increases the use of technology.
Additionally, as stated in some works of David Chan, from Proessaywriting, home confinement is capable of causing a substantial change in adolescent and children’s lifestyles. This has led to a load of principal zeitgebers that help maintain regular routines and the sleeping and waking schedules in the body. The result of these restrictions is increased screen time, unconstrained sleeping schedules, absence of peer interactions, lack of outdoor activities, increased anxiety and stress, which adds to sleep disturbances and poor sleeping patterns in adolescents and children.
The closure of schools and kindergarten to curb the spread of the virus has impacted children’s sleep habits. It has effects ranging from lethargy, increased feeling of loneliness, more screen time, napping behaviors, social networking, and a drop in the quality of sleep.
According to a study posted in the Journal of Sleep Research, some researchers studied the sleep pattern of 1619 Chinese children. The children within the age of 4 to 6 were selected from different preschools in Guizhou province in Zunyi city, 650 miles away from Wuhan. Parents and guardians were asked to complete a questionnaire that involved how the children were sleeping during the early stages of the lockdown after they had been home for almost a month. The sleep patterns reported in this survey were compared side by side with another study from 2018.
According to Dr. Zhijun Liu of the Zunyi Medical University and the lead author of this study, documenting with Australian writing said that the lockdown negatively affected children’s sleep pattern. According to him, many families in China had to go indoors for the lockdown, which led to a lesser one-on-one relationship and interpersonal communication, lease outdoor activities, and little to no unusual sunlight. Everyone, both children and parents, had to spend most of their time online with their electronic devices than they could move around. Living within a limited space for a prolonged period is not good for anybody’s mood and overall health as well.
The result of this survey showed that the lockdown caused children to go to sleep later than they usually would. Compared to the 2018 results, children went to sleep an average of 57 minutes later during the weekdays and an average of 30 minutes later during the weekends—the difference in sleep time during the lockdown and the 2018 result. However, the difference is much clearer in the waking up times. Children were not only sleeping late during the lockdown, they were also waking up much later, and the difference was much more significant. From the survey, children were waking up almost 2 hours later during the weekdays compared to the previous report from 2018, and during the weekends, they woke up one hour later.
It is telling that in the samples from 2020, the researchers could not tell the difference between weekends and weekdays from their sleep patterns. It is easy to conclude that the children essentially were having a holiday sleep schedule which is what the lockdown is about.
From this report, it is evident that children slept for longer at night during the lockdown compared to the normal period. Also, they were unsurprisingly sleeping for much less period during the day. In the report from 2018, almost 80% of the children that took part in the survey took daytime naps regularly during weekdays, and 70% of them had naps during the weekend. For the lockdown report, only about 27.5 percent of the children took naps during the day.
Although the total time spent sleeping added up to the same thing over 24 hours, the sleeping patterns varied. Interestingly and unexpectedly, it was noted that the parents and guidance reported a reduced number of sleep disturbances. The sample from the lockdown period reported lesser sleep anxiety, bedtime resistance, night waking, and daytime sleeplessness compared to the other sample from 2018.
Apart from all of these negative impacts, the lockdown is also capable of reducing the need to attend social constructions such as schools for children and work for adults. It will also allow the children to align better with their sleep requirements and enhance interaction between the parents and their children. So, it is not all negative, especially when discussing the psychological effect of the lockdown on children. While it affects their sleep pattern negatively, it also has some other effects that need to be studied. Most of the studies that have been carried out on the lockdown’s psychological effects have focused more on the parents than the children. There need to be more studies done into how children are affected by the stay-at-home order.
In summary, the lockdown has affected the way children sleep. Some adolescents and children now spend more time sleeping and sleep better. In contrast, some others sleep worse and less because they struggle with the use of electronics, anxiety, disrupted routines, or even all of the above. Some of the children who had a bedtime routine that they followed because of school have had that disrupted and now have to reset due to schools’ closure. And as always, remember to interact with your children more in real life, not only by gadgets.