Impact of Lockdown.3 on children’s sleep

by Kizzy Coll-Cats

Lockdown.3 2021 seems to have been the hardest one yet. Winter weather and homeschooling, fatigue as a result of living with Covid-19 restrictions for almost a year. It all takes a toll on our well being. Those of us with small children at home, many unable to attend education settings, not seeing friends, less activities and places to explore. What impact is this having on them?

Personally, our biggest challenge has been sleep! Not really an area of parenting we have seen as an issue or challenges with. Until now! Lockdown.3 resulted in huge emotional outbursts, sleep refusal, fear of darkness and an ongoing battle. We got to a point we all were upset and crying and not sleeping. I reached out to a gentle, respectful parenting group of professionals at Calm Family, for support (see links at the bottom for blog posts and support). The overwhelming support and reassurance from others experiencing the same or similar was a relief (as a parent as it meant I hadn’t broken my child, whilst being sad others too are experiencing such challenges).

The Survey

I was interested in finding out others experiences. The survey was distributed on Facebook, using google surveys and totally anonymous. 109 replies. Age categories (% of responses from that age group) were:  0-6months (2.75%), 7-11 months (1.83%), 1-3years (23.85%) , 4-6 years (44.04%) , 7-11 years (23.85%) , 12+ (3.67%). Questions were a range of multiple choice, yes/no and comments.

Results

Results have been broken down by those who’s children were attending educational settings, those attending part time and those not attending, explored overall and by age groups. Including a summary of overall responses. (% rounded to the nearest whole %)

% of those children’s sleep affected by lockdown

 Total across all ages1-3 years4-6 years7-11 years
Not in Educational setting25446896
In Educational setting70607550
Part-Time Education56081100
% of those children who’s sleep has been effected by lockdown

When asked from a list of effects (able to select more than one effect) results showed

  • 29% of parents said their children had less energy. Those in age group 0-6 months, 12% reported an increase in energy. Over all our findings for those with little ones under the age of 1 years old, were not reporting adverse effects on sleep.
  • 55% of parents said their children took longer to get to sleep. Many added comments saying their children were more emotional at bedtimes, becoming frustrated, upset and needing significantly more support in aiding sleep. Some stated that their children had gone from sleeping independently to co-sleeping (sharing a room or bed with their parent).
  • 31% of parents said their children woke more often through out the night.
  • 17% of parents said their children woke more regularly in the night. Night waking is biologically normal. However, parents reported that their children were waking more than usual and were having difficultly in going back to sleep.
  • 37% of parents stated their children were waking later. This was mainly from the 7+ age group. They also reported that their children struggled with motivation for school work and other activities. This age group also reported higher % of those with low mood.
  • 36% of parents stated their children woke tired. With 3% saying they woke refreshed (this was mainly in the under 1 year old age categories.
  • 26% of parents stated their children experienced nightmares or bad dreams. This number is slightly higher if you include comments made in further questions. This was mainly in the 4-6 years age group and some 7-11 years. Many parents reported their children dreaming about families and friends becoming ill or death.
  • 28% of parents stated their children were more restless in their sleep.

In addition to check box questions, parents were given the opportunity to write a comment. 80% of parents chose to add further detail. A number of parents, especially those in the 4-6 years category, reported that the challenge of completing home learning whilst working from home resulted in change of parenting approach. Some stated they were more ‘short’ and ‘shouty’ with their children, many talked about the guilt they felt due to the increased screen time their children were having and contributed this factor to the impact on their child’s sleep.

Those with children aged 1-3 years described a noticeable impact on their child’s social interaction. Many stating their children were becoming upset when meeting and seeing people who are not in their household. Some reported that their child was reluctant to engage in messy play or would communicate a need to clean up if their hands touched things. Some parents expressed concerns regarding their child’s communication and language development.

Children aged 4-6 years were described to have significant difficulties in regulating their emotions. Most common theme that came out was that their children were outwardly more emotional and angry than before lockdown.3, through crying significantly more, shouting, screaming, throwing and argumentative. Another recurring theme was anxiety. Several parents reported their child being reluctant to leave the house or be in spaces where there may be other people. Nearly all parents who included comments stated their child needed to be close to their parent, including over night. With some developing fears of being in a room on their own or going upstairs.

In the 7+ years category nearly all parents stated their child, since lockdown.3, had little to no motivation, with little interest in activities and difficulty in concentration, increased anxiety and emotional outbursts. This, with the increased amount of hours these children were reported to sleep are common signs/symptoms for those who experience depression (mind website).

The impact on sleep for both adults and children during lockdown has been noticeable and understandable. Less activity and exercise and less stimulation alongside winter weather and lack of control over what we can do. Our brains need so much more in our days. Human’s have a range of needs that we need meeting. Emily Wilding (February 2020), wrote an article ‘A neuropsychological theory of human needs’, outlining a theory of human needs which help us understand human behaviors. Many of which we are unable to meet during a world wide pandemic. However, understanding which needs we are not being able to meet can provide us with a basis of ideas how we can begin to introduce activities to meet some of those needs. This is an area as parents we can begin with to support and understand our children.

For us, it lead us to create rituals and habits throughout the day which enabled opportunities for connection, recognition and support of regulation. Creating little activities and opportunities to enable us to have some novelty. My 5 year old’s bedroom on an evening is almost spa like, but for us it has meant we aren’t having hours of screaming or distress, resulting in better sleep. The process of unpicking my son’s behaviors enabled me to sit back and create an approach and strategies. Learning that others too were experiencing similar behaviors enabled me to remove my own guilt and react with more careful purpose and control.

The mental health, communication and relationship impact and long term effects of this pandemic will be seen for years to come. All we can do is continue to make careful observations, learn to understand those observations and work together to mitigate the consequence of Covid-19 on our children’s well-being.

The return to school’s was announced on the 22/02/2021 causing increased worry for parents regarding the transition. This document from NHS England for Scotland, CAMHS, ‘it’s ok to worry about going back to school’ this is a resource pack for parents to help support children returning to school.

Useful websites regarding children’s sleep

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