Sleep and Virtual School: Podcast Episode #106
Kristin and Alyssa talk about the struggle to get kids to sleep during virtual school at home. Is it important to have a set bedtime? Can kids stay up late? We answer these questions and more! You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Alyssa: Hello. Welcome to the Ask the Doulas Podcast. I am Alyssa, and I’m here with Kristen today. Hey.
Kristin: Hello. Good morning.
Alyssa: And we decided to chat about sleep and during COVID and kids going to school, because she texted me the other night with a specific question regarding her daughter Abby and school. So do you want to tell me what your specific question with Abby was?
Kristin: Yes. So we were transitioning from summer sleep schedule to back to school, but my kids are in school virtually until at least late October. So they don’t get up as early to go to the bus, and Abby was trying to negotiate a later bedtime based on what some of her friends were doing with virtual school. So since, of course, you’re the sleep expert —
Alyssa: And Abby is how old?
Kristin: Abby is in fourth grade. So she will be 10 in late January.
Alyssa: And of course she thinks she’s nearly an adult, so why not stay up late, right?
Kristin: Right. She’s so mature compared to her brother, who is in second grade, and she wants to stay up later than Seth, of course, but I actually have always had them on the same sleep schedule for school, so…
Alyssa: Yeah. I mean, the difference between 7 and 10 years old for sleep is not any different. They still need generally 11 hours at night. Some kids need less; some kids will need more. And you’ll know it. If your kid needs 12 hours of sleep at night and they’re only getting 10, they’ll be exhausted during the day, but if you’re trying to force 12 or 13 hours of sleep on your kid who only needs 10 or 11, they will ultimately just stay awake in their room for two extra hours. I mean, the biggest takeaway for sleep, adults or children, is to have a schedule. Our bodies work on a natural circadian rhythm that flows with when the sun rises and the sun sets, and then eating at certain times of the day and then having social activities throughout the day. And your body just sets its own rhythm. And if you try to get up at 7:00 some mornings and then try to sleep in until 9:00 other mornings, and then some nights you go to bed at 10:00 and some nights you go to bed at 1:00 in the morning, your body — it just kind of wreaks havoc on this rhythm that your body wants and needs, and you’re not letting it happen. So then we find that you’ll have days where you’re tired and you need to take a nap. And naps can be great, but if you find you have to take naps every single day, it can actually lead to worse sleep at night, which then you say, oh, now I have insomnia and I can’t get to bed at night. But it’s really important with kids that they have a general wake-up time, like within a half an hour. So if you kind of work back from — like, my daughter is in in-person school five days a week, so she needs to leave at 8:00, and even though it only takes her a few minutes to get dressed and eat and brush her teeth, she’s very slow about it because she’s 7 and gets really distracted. So I set her little alarm clock to go off at 7:00, so we have a full hour to do these three tasks that really would only take 15 minutes.
Kristin: Snuggles, play with your dog…
Alyssa: Yeah. She wants time to talk to me about things and then, you know, probably play for a couple minutes and watch a show in the morning if she has time for a few minutes. So there’s all these things that need to fit into an hour. And then on the weekends, she still wakes up at 7:00. Even if I turn her alarm off, her rhythm — I mean, granted, I’m a sleep consultant, so she’s been a great sleeper since forever — so her rhythm is set. Like, she is just up. Not to say that there haven’t been times where she — you know, we go on vacation or away from the weekend and she stays up a little bit late and sleeps in a little bit late. But that doesn’t work so well with babies. As we get older, our bodies can handle a little adjustment here and there. But, you know, your kids, if they are going back to school in October —
Kristin: Hopefully, yes.
Alyssa: Hopefully! Fingers crossed, assuming everything is safe — you can’t just say, okay, you have school on Monday. Let’s start a good routine on Saturday. You would need to think about it at least a week ahead of time and start setting their schedules. So kind of work backwards from, okay, are they taking the bus? If so, what time do we need to be out the door? How long does it take to do this? What time do they need to be up? And then you would base their bedtime on whenever they need to wake up. And assume they need 11 hours at their age.
Kristin: Now, what about the parents who have the hybrid model for school? So, you know, my kids are home five days. Finn is in school five days, but what about the kids that are in school two days and then home two days?
Alyssa: Same. They need to be waking up within a half an hour of that. So let’s say they have to leave for school at 8:00 in the morning on days they go. And then they don’t have to log into their computer until 9:00 or 10:00 on the days off, or maybe it doesn’t matter at all, depending on how their classes are scheduled or how it’s set up. They still need to be waking up. Otherwise, your body doesn’t know: am I going to bed at 9:00 and waking up at 7:00? Or am I supposed to stay up until 11:00 p.m. and wake up at 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.? It just needs consistency, and the later you try to push it, usually, the harder it is. Now, there are some kids who are just — like, a night owl is a real thing. There are some kids who just function better going to bed later and waking up later. Unfortunately, the school wake times aren’t conducive to those children. And teenagers are completely different animals in and of themselves because of all these hormonal changes. They actually need to stay up later and wake later, and it’s the hardest on them. They start earlier. There’s all sorts of studies done about it, documentaries. But they’re suffering the worst. It’s the hardest on them because they literally need that sleep later, and they’re being forced to get up earlier, to be to school early. Some sports practice are before school. So it’s really, really hard on them. And then we have parents saying, you know, you need to go to bed, or you’re being lazy, or you’re sleeping in too late. Their bodies actually physically need it. Like, biologically, their brains need to sleep a little bit later. So that gets tricky, too.
Kristin: Now, with sleep, obviously, you give a lot of advice to parents with toddlers about limiting screen time and things before bed. What is — you know, I’m so curious about the effect of, like, my kids being on tablets all day and how to transition out, and I’m trying to give them breaks during the day to go outside, get away from the screens. Whether they’re on Zoom or they’re doing homework on the computer, it’s so much computer time. And my kids are like Montessori, hands-on. We use these tools in the classroom. And now they’re on little tablets…
Alyssa: I mean, don’t guilt yourself. There’s nothing you can do about that right now. It’s their only way to learn. But you can buy blue blockers. Get them some glasses to wear. And then giving breaks is good. But then for the last hour before bed, don’t —
Kristin: No screen time.
Alyssa: Don’t let them have any.
Kristin: No TV, no tablet.
Alyssa: No. Because they’re getting so much of it all day. Let’s let their brain just kind of rest and relax. Even though that’s the time of day when kids want to relax and watch a show — you know, I have the luxury of doing that with my daughter because she’s in school all day, so when we come home and we play and then eat dinner and then do bath and then it’s like we chill out for a half an hour in front of the TV, and then she just kind of like — that’s her decompression time. But you have to figure out the opposite, so what can your kids do at night? Reading is great. Writing in a journal. Like, at Abby’s age, she might be into that. That’d be a great journal-writing time, right before bed.
Kristin: Yeah. We do bath or shower time and the quiet time in your room, and that’s exactly what we do. Look at a book, write something, draw a picture…
Alyssa: Do a puzzle, draw, anything that just brings your brain to that focused on that one activity and it’s calming and soothing.
Kristin: It’s good advice. So any other tips for parents with school-age children, and maybe even how to manage schedules if they have a newborn or toddler?
Alyssa: Just consistency is key. I mean, no matter what age your child. And then parents, too. You know, at the end of all my sleep consults, once the baby is sleeping well, now I’m like, I’m not an adult sleep consultant, but how are you guys sleeping? And it can take a while for parents’ sleep schedules to get back on track because they’re used to waking every two hours all night long with their one-year-old. So they’ve had a year of sleepless nights. So it can take — and be patient. Be patient with your child. Be patient with yourself. Give your body that time to slowly adjust back into a normal sleep routine. But even throughout all this virtual school stuff, parents should have a set schedule, too.
Kristin: Yeah. And then we’ve got Daylight Savings coming up.
Alyssa: I just worked with a client in Arizona. Every sleep plan has a Daylight Savings section, and they’re like, well, we don’t have to deal with that. I’m like, oh, gosh, you’re so lucky. Why don’t all 50 states just eliminate this, because it’s just awful. It’s awful on everybody. And really hard to understand, too. Like, do I go back? Am I going forward? And then same with that. A week ahead of time, prepare your child for it. And that’s coming up, what, October?
Alyssa: Is it early November? Okay.
Kristin: Yeah. I want to say, like, November 1st or something.
Alyssa: Yeah. I don’t know why I was thinking October, but yeah, whenever it is, just a week ahead of time, start transitioning your kid either an hour forward or back, depending. And I always try to post something on Instagram and Facebook about it because it’s so confusing for parents to know which way they’re supposed to be adjusting the schedule ahead of time.
Alyssa: So I guess I’ll be doing that soon because that’s coming up again soon.
Kristin: Got to get some black-out curtains and blinds because, yeah, those adjustments can be challenging.
Alyssa: Yeah. Keeping your room dark at night — your body really changes, like, the wakefulness and sleep because of light or darkness and then temperature changes. So our body tends to warm up when we’re going to wake up, so having a really warm room — and I tell this to clients with babies, too. If the room is really warm, that alone can cause wakeups because your body just gets too hot.
Kristin: Makes sense, yeah.
Alyssa: A nice cool room.
Kristin: I don’t like my room to be too warm at night. Well, thank you. Very helpful!