Youth Culture Window

When Our Kids’ Sleep Suffers…

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The Quarantine Has Changed How Our Kids Rest
David R Smith

Between the 1960s and the 1980s, a famous public service announcement aired on a nightly basis asking parents an important question: “It’s 11pm. Do you know where your kids are?” Back then, most parents could answer, “In bed.” 

To get the same answer these days, as our nation wrestles with the ongoing effects of the Coronavirus, the question would need to be restated: “It’s 3pm. Do you know where your kids are?” 

That’s because kids are carving out completely different sleep schedules for themselves due to the pandemic. Every semblance of “routine” has fallen victim to the Coronavirus; kids don’t go to bed until the middle of the night and don’t wake up till the middle of the afternoon. Now that school began some kids have a little bit of structure, but not even close to last year at this time.

The change has been so drastic that some parents refer to their kids’ lifestyles as “unstructured” while other parents just call their kids “vampires.”

For many years now, we’ve known just how much teenagers have struggled to get a good night’s rest. Unfortunately, the added stresses of our current pandemic are making it even more difficult for kids to find the consistent sleep they so desperately need. The additional fears of contracting the virus, the limitations imposed by social distancing, and the negative impact on finances has led Donn Posner, president of the Sleepwell Associates, to declare the current situation a “perfect storm of sleep problems.” 

Like the problem itself, the negative effects of sleep deprivation are also well-known. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry recently published a massive study undertaken by the University of Reading that underscored the problems teenagers face when they don’t get sufficient sleep. Their findings pointed to “a significant relationship between poor sleep and mental health issues.” Studying 4,790 young people, their data showed that teens who got low quantities of sleep and poor quality sleep were more likely to experience depression. Kids who got more sleep, but still poor quality rest, were more likely to experience anxiety.    

On the surface, the amount and quality of sleep between the groups didn’t sound like all that much. For example, the healthiest group of teenagers reported getting around 8 hours of sleep on school nights and a little more than 9.5 hours on the weekends. The students who were most often plagued with depression were getting less than 7.5 hours of sleep on weeknights and about 9 hours on the weekends. That led Dr. Faith Orchard, one of the university’s professors to say, “What’s noticeable is that the difference in average amount of sleep between those who experienced depression, which amounts to going to sleep 30 minutes later each night compared to other participants.”

Yeah, I’d say that’s an important half hour!

As parents, what can we do to help our kids get that extra half hour of sleep that seems so crucial? Is it within our power to help our kids get the right quantity of sleep and the right quality of sleep? I think so, and the best news is, it’s not even hard to do! Here are a couple of quick thoughts to point you in the right direction:    

1. Provide a structured schedule. Eventually, the world will return to its pre-Armageddon state and the best way for kids to be ready for it is access to structure and normalcy, now. Granted, “normalcy” is a bit relevant these days, but a consistent bedtime, consistent hygiene practices, and consistent exercise will go a long way towards helping our kids maintain physical and mental health during these turbulent times. Call a family meeting and develop an agreed-upon schedule to help your crew best navigate the pandemic…and then stick with it. This will work wonders for your family. 

2. Shut off screens. If this sounds like advice from left field that has nothing to do with sleep, think again. For a long time, we’ve known that heavy screen use – especially late at night – can have an adverse effect on the quantity and quality of kids’ sleep. Again, establish an agreed-upon time that phones, laptops, and video games get turned off…and stick with it. (An even better move is to make sure phones don’t stay in kids’ bedrooms overnight no matter how badly they may claim to need them.) If you’re disciplined in this, it won’t be long before you should see marked improvement in quantity and quality of sleep.  

Sleep is just as important to our overall health as eating, drinking, and breathing. Let’s do everything we can to make sure our kids get the necessary amount.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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