Children across Southwest Florida are enjoying their school year at home these days as COVID-19 precautions continue.
That means online learning and more quality family time – but it also means an increased chance of developing unhealthy habits such as too much gaming, more time watching TV, or general lack of activity and exercise.
Another danger? As children adjust to new schedules and routines, they might be sacrificing good, nourishing sleep.
Insomnia and general sleep issues are increasing amid our new home-schooling reality, according to Dr. Jose Colon, a Lee Health physician certified in sleep medicine, neurology, and lifestyle medicine.
Dr. Colon says the primary cause of sleep issues nowadays is that home-schooled children may spend too much time in their rooms and in their beds for reasons other than sleeping. Beds, of course, are associated with sleeping or napping, periods of rest that heal the body and mind.
“There isn’t anything wrong with home-schooling or video games, but I see this trend often with children,” Dr. Colon says. “When we discuss sleep hygiene, we discuss regular bedtimes and regular wake times. It applies to both adults and children. Spending time in their rooms or beds doing non-sleep activity stimulates the brain, the opposite of what the brain needs when settling in for restful sleep."
Here are some tips that parents can use to ensure their child is getting the healing rest they need – especially important during these stressful times.
The concept of sleep hygiene involves using the bedroom only for sleep. For wake-related activities, go outside the bedroom, Dr. Colon advises.
“Choose a place where the children can do their home and school work, such as the kitchen table, living room or porch," Dr. Colon says. "The idea is to avoid having them spend too much time in their bedrooms during the day."
Remember, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Allow them to stay outside to the best of your ability. So make exercise a family activity.
“One of the things I’ve been doing with my kids, personally, we’ve been taking them for bike rides. My wife has been going for a jog—if they need to be on their bike to ride alongside, they can,” Dr. Colon says. “We happen to have a basketball net and allow our kids to shoot hoops. They are supposed to be in social isolation, and they need to emphasize that around their neighborhood.”
Families can utilize what they have--a pool, bounce house, tumbling mats, or even chalk to create a hopscotch grid or obstacle courses.
These activities help improve sleep quality by improving the deep, slow-wave sleep that children need.
Have your family continue to follow the same schedule as during the school year, Dr. Colon says. Get up, eat breakfast, shower — do all the regular things your family has always done — before your children begin their online learning for the day.
The rest of the day needs a set schedule, too, for chores, family activities, reading, TV, even gaming and phone use. Dr. Colon says the key when creating this schedule is to get children involved.
“Sit down and ask your children what they would like to do, what the schedule should be. Allow them to participate, and that way they will feel engaged in what you and the family are up to each day,” Dr. Colon says.
These scheduled activities are also the perfect time for kids and families to play board games, put together puzzles, or learn new hobbies such as making art, designing crafts, or playing a musical instrument. Let your children know this extra time is great for learning new things.
Dr. Colon urges parents to be on the lookout for signs of gaming or phone addiction in their children.
Gaming for 3-4 hours at a time may not indicate an addiction, but if a child is gaming for six hours and only sleeping for four hours? That may be a sign of an addiction, Dr. Colon says. Consult with your pediatrician if you develop concerns.
Parents should include gaming and phone/computer use into the family's daily schedule. Just be sure your children are supervised and not using their bedrooms as a place for these and other activities, Dr. Colon says.
Because once the game or TV show ends, your child may be too overstimulated to enjoy a quality, healthful night of sleep.