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Tight work schedules for mom could mean poor sleep for kids, study finds

The researchers found that having a set bedtime routine could be the key

Photo (c) Klubovy - Getty Images
While finding an effective nighttime routine can be difficult for many adults, a new study conducted by researchers at Penn State found that having a regular bedtime routine is essential for kids to have the most restful nights’ sleep -- especially if their moms’ have busy schedules.

The study found that while moms who have rigorous work schedules often have rough nights of sleep, it can also affect their kids’ sleep. However, the researchers believe that keeping the same bedtime each night is key to breaking that cycle.

“We’ve seen this link between inflexible work schedules and children’s sleep patterns before, but we didn’t know why it was happening,” said researcher Orfeu Buxton. “Our results suggest that maybe it’s about children not having a regular bedtime routine if their mother is working an inflexible job. We know positive routines especially are very important for positive child growth, so sleep may suffer if it’s not there.”

Studying work flexibility

To test the ways mothers’ work schedules affected their children’s sleep, the researchers evaluated data from over 1,000 mothers and their children.

The mothers were asked to evaluate how flexible they thought their job schedules were, along with how many hours their child sleeps each night, if they had a regular bedtime, and if they had trouble falling asleep at night. The mothers answered the questions when their children were five years old, and again when they were nine.

The biggest takeaway was that children were found to sleep less when their mothers’ work schedules were less flexible. Additionally, children were found to have less trouble falling asleep and were better at maintaining the same bedtime when their mothers’ gained flexibility in their work schedules over the course of the study.

“If parents can be there for their kids on a regular basis, and help them by having a regular bedtime routine, all of that’s very beneficial for their long-term growth and development,” Buxton said.

Lead researcher Soomi Lee, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida, wants to put the onus on workplaces to foster more flexible work environments for parents.

“If workplaces could improve employees’ flexibility and control over when and where they work, that could be helpful,” Lee said. “They could offer diverse flexible work options for employees, especially for working mothers, such as flextime, telecommuting, or job-sharing with another employee.”

Sleep matters

The researchers are looking to continue the study by evaluating how this affects sleep habits as these children become teenagers and young adults. Based on recent studies, sleep is just as important to the wellbeing of both teens and adults.

A study conducted earlier this month by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that high school students who sleep less than six hours per night are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including substance abuse and drinking and driving.

“Insufficient sleep in youth raises multiple public health concerns, including mental health, substance abuse, and motor vehicle crashes,” said the study’s senior author Elizabeth Klerman, PhD. “We should support efforts to promote healthy sleep habits and decrease barriers to sufficient sleep in this vulnerable population.”

Moreover, negative effects associated with lack of sleep were found to last into adulthood.

Researchers at Michigan State University recently conducted a study that found that sleep deprivation impedes people’s efforts in completing tasks, and their overall memory function throughout the day.

On the other end of the spectrum, researchers at the University of Bristol found the benefits of sleeping -- particularly in shorter periods. The study found that short spurts of sleep can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving while awake.

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