The pandemic has fundamentally altered every part of our lives, not least the time we spend on digital devices. In particular, the blurred line between recreational and educational screen time presents new challenges for young people. For parents, it is challenging to renegotiate routines as we enter a “new normal” return to school.
It is worth making some thoughtful adjustments to support the transition to “new normal” school routine. Even before COVID, there were concerns about screen time and the impact on sleep patterns. Like adults, children and teens are likely to have established quite different routines during a lockdown: time spent on screens, gaming & social media platforms to enhance social connectedness, sleeping later, merging of work & rest in the same spaces whilst on devices, and so on.
You may have heard the term sleep hygiene, which refers to creating the ideal conditions for a healthy sleep cycle — and the opportunity to wake up well-rested.
Sleep hygiene relates to the routine that we have during the day and pre-bedtime, like the temperature of the bedroom or the time of day we consume caffeine. An optimized environment and well-thought-out routine can play a significant role in your ability to reset your body clocks. Ideal sleep hygiene can set the stage for being more focused during the day and more relaxed at night. Signs of poor sleep hygiene include fatigue and brain fog, two conditions that can impact our capacity to engage in meaningful learning and further deter us from resetting our sleep schedule.
To keep our body clock regulating correctly, consider a quick burst of exercise the next time you’re hitting a midday wall. Opting for a workout can energize you by bringing you into the present moment. Anything from low-impact stretching to high-intensity cardio can give you a boost of energy.
Another daytime activity that can significantly affect our sleep cycle is your link with food. If you can, avoiding stimulants like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol a few hours before bedtime will also help.
One of the critical pillars of resetting our sleep schedule is waking up simultaneously each day. Essentially, our body clock likes to run, like clockwork. Making incremental adjustments by 15-30 each day will help establish a return to routine. Remember, nothing happens overnight, so we need to be patient with ourselves and our children and know that the adjustments will get easier when our circadian rhythm balances.
When setting a consistent bedtime, be mindful about the light you’re exposed to before bed — natural or artificial. If phones must be used, switch to night mode at least one hour before bed. The ideal room for sleep is cool and dark. Experiment with other elements to create a restful environment for a good night’s sleep. For example, comfy bedding & pillows, using essential oils (lavender), recreational reading from a book, listening to relaxing music, taking a warm bath or shower before bed, meditating, journal writing, practising breathing techniques, sleep podcast.
For better or worse, we live in a digital society, surrounded by many devices used for everything from social connection to learning and entertainment. The boundaries between what constitutes recreation, communication and learning have become less distinct. Screen time that may seem on the surface to be purely recreational can, in reality, be necessary for learning, supporting mental health, social connectedness and driving awareness of important issues.
Hence, rebalancing screen time will help avoid the more negative consequences of devices and highlight some of their unique advantages. This will require more profound and more critical thinking about what might be gained or lost in a world where engaging with digital technology is increasingly unavoidable. Looking at it through your child’s eyes will help build understanding. Invite them to be part of the conversation & share your perspectives and actively listen to theirs. Experts suggest that to get the balance right, we need to reorient our views of screen time away from a blunt measure of time spent on screens and better understand what children are doing on those screens.
Remember, there is no one size fits all. Still, as adults, we need to set appropriate boundaries based upon the age & stage of our children’s capacity to self-regulate and exercise autonomy. With that in mind, go gently and go well.
Director of Counselling