As the world transitions from pandemic lockdowns, paediatric sleep experts have found some pluses of working from home, including more sleep for babies and less daytime drowsiness for parents.
On the downside, a new study led by Adelaide-based Flinders University and published in Sleep Medicine, also warns that the pandemic o introduced some negative consequences for families and young infants – including more screen time for babies and increased depressive symptoms in their parents. The study sample included 1,518 US infants aged 1-18 months.
To measure changes in the lives of infants and their parents through the US lockdowns, researchers used cutting-edge auto video-somnography technology to collect objective sleep metrics, as well as online questionnaires completed by parents.
Night-time sleep duration increased for infants
They compared infant sleep and digital media screen exposure habits in late 2019 to data collected a year later in November-December 2020.
For infants, night-time sleep duration increased, but so did screen exposure time. For parents of infants, daytime sleepiness decreased, yet mild increases in depressive symptoms occurred.
The study, led by Flinders University researcher Dr Michal Kahn and Professor of Child Psychology Michael Gradisar, found the following changes occurred during the Covid-19 year: Infants had 40 minutes more sleep per night; Older infants had an additional 18 minutes of screen time per day; Parents reported less daytime sleepiness, but more depression during Covid.
As a reference for future lockdowns and pandemic conditions, Dr Kahn said the study highlighted the need to raise awareness to reduce infant screen-time, as well as the daytime stresses on the mental health of parents.
Pragmatic approaches to reducing screen-time
“Applying harm-reduction strategies, such as encouraging parents to choose adequate digital media content, incorporate movement while using screens, and prioritising screen-free times may be an appropriate pragmatic approach,” she noted.
“Similarly, effective measures to access psychological support and treatment programs could help mitigate the effects of [lockdown] restrictions on parents’ depressive symptoms – particularly in the event of further Covid-19 waves, or future pandemics.”
In spite of the negatives, the researchers say the increases in infant sleep duration and decrease in parent sleepiness suggest that these conditions may also have substantial benefits.
“Extending some of these conditions, such as allowing parents to work from home, should be considered within the efforts to improve the wellbeing of parents and infants as they transition to post-pandemic times,” the research concluded.