Help to sleep sweeter
PANDEMIC STRESS IS INVADING OUR SLUMBER AND THAT OF OUR KIDS – EXPERTS WEIGH IN ON WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT
CHILDREN as young as 10 are waking up several times a night with pandemic stress disrupting their sleep, new research reveals. “We are now seeing cases of anxiety in children who, without the stresses of the pandemic, would have been perfectly content,” says paediatrician Dr Deb Levy.
The data in a survey of Australian parents commissioned by Calming Blankets, a science-driven weighted blanket, says 40 per cent claimed that their child was waking up twice or more a night.
Disrupted sleep is a problem shared across Australia: 42 per cent of Queenslanders and an equal 41 per cent of those in Victoria and WA revealed their child wakes up two or
more times a night, followed by
33 per cent of South Australians.
Respondents were also asked how many nights a week their child has interrupted sleep – 22 per cent of parents reported that their children have six nights and 53 per cent of parents admitted it was up to four nights a week.
“Sleep-related problems are very common in those with anxiety, and often present as behavioural issues, from difficulty or an apparent unwillingness to fall asleep, to night time fears and a refusal to sleep alone,” Levy says.
Internationally recognised sleep expert, Dr Carmel Harrington, says environmental factors in relation to Covid-19 had a powerful role to play.
“If you’ve got parents who aren’t financially affected (by the pandemic), if you’ve got a roof over your head, if you’re not worried about being sick, then you’re coping, therefore the child is coping.
“But if you’re in a situation where you’ve lost your job, you’ve got no
money, you don’t know where the rent is going to come from, you’re in an overcrowded house, then that anxiety the parents are feeling is transmitted to the children as well, so there’s two sets of responses here.
“Before we had the Delta variant, the idea that children would get sick wasn’t really thought about,” explains Harrington.
“And now that we know Delta is affecting a lot of children, that is an issue.
“One child said, ‘are we all gonna die?’, so that level of anxiety is huge and it really does affect their ability to have consolidated sleep, so they might have nightmares, they may wake up and not be able to get back to sleep.”
Levy, who is also a parent, says now more than ever, sleep is imperative for the general population, with sleep deprivation directly linked to a dampening of the immune system.
“(This) leads to higher prevalence and duration of sicknesses, from common illnesses to those that are more harmful in the long term,” Levy explains.
“It is important to remember that impacted sleep can often be an indicator of underlying distress that our children are experiencing.
“At a time where children have never experienced the emotions that they are feeling now, and haven’t yet developed the skills to manage this, it is so important for parents and primary caregivers to be vigilantly on the lookout for symptoms of anxiety or sleep deprivation.
“Sleep is so incredibly important for our young ones as it impacts nearly every aspect of their development, from normal brain functions and neurocognitive development, including memory consolidation; to other bodily functions essential for survival including growth, tissue repair and hormone synthesis. The benefits of sleep in young children simply cannot be overstated.”