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Working from home leads to kids getting more sleep, but more depression for parents

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted babies’ sleep by 40 minutes a day, according to a new study. Researchers from Flinders University say having to work from home has had some real benefits, with parents feeling less drowsy during the day and children getting more shut-eye at night. Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as kids have also spent more time looking at screens and adults are feeling more depressed during quarantine.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health officials have been asking the public to stay home to prevent COVID-19 and its variants from spreading. Being forced to work from home and avoid socializing has taken a toll on people’s mental health, but it’s also changing family dynamics as well.

Professor Michal Kahn says that for infants, night-time sleep duration is rising, but screen time is also going up too. For parents of infants, daytime sleepiness is actually going down, but they’re also experiencing mild increases in depressive symptoms. Kahn adds the study highlights the need to raise awareness to reduce infant screen-time and the daytime stresses many parents feel.

Remote working parents feeling the stress

The team used cutting-edge technology to collect “objective sleep metrics” from 1,518 American children between one and 18 month-old during the lockdown. Researchers asked parents to complete an online questionnaire about their child’s sleep patterns and how much time they spend staring at digital screens.

Study authors then compared how much sleep and screen time families logged between November and December 2020 with results from 2019. While children got an average of 40 minutes more sleep a night during the lockdown, they also spent 18 minutes more looking at screens, the study finds. For parents, sleeping during the day was less common, but depressive symptoms mildly increased.

“Applying harm reduction strategies, such as encouraging parents to choose adequate digital media content, incorporate movement while using screens, and prioritize screen-free times may be an appropriate pragmatic approach,” says Professor Kahn says in a university release.

“Similarly, effective measures to access psychological support and treatment programs could help mitigate the effects of living restrictions on parents’ depressive symptoms – particularly in the event of further COVID-19 waves, or future pandemics.”

However, this study shows that despite the negative consequences of the lockdown, working from home could also bring “substantial benefits.”

“Extending some of these conditions, such as allowing parents to work from home, should be considered within the efforts to improve the well-being of parents and infants as they transition to post-pandemic times,” Prof. Kahn concludes.

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