It’s tough for working moms to get a good night’s sleep, but working tight hours may affect their children’s sleep, too.
After studying the sleep habits of children from ages five to nine, researchers found that when mothers reported less flexibility in their work schedules, their children got less sleep. When they gained flexibility in their work schedules, their children slept more.
However, this link diminished when the researchers accounted for whether the children were given regular bedtime routines, suggesting consistent bedtimes may be the key to offsetting damage done by tight work schedules.
Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, said the results give clues into how and why a parent’s work schedule may affect their children’s sleep.
“We’ve seen this link between inflexible work schedules and children’s sleep patterns before, but we didn’t know why it was happening,” Buxton said. “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.”
The researchers said the findings also suggest that it could be helpful for employers to create policies that give employees more flexibility, both for the health of the employees and their children.
Soomi Lee, now an assistant professor at University of South Florida, who led the paper while a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State, said employers could begin by considering how to change both the structural and cultural practices that may hinder flexibility.
“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.”
Buxton said the study gives parents with inflexible work schedules a way to possibly help their kids get more sleep.
“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. “Children can be a delight to watch go to sleep. Perhaps you could start with a bath, then brushing teeth and reading books to create this sort of calm, together time as a family.”
Too Much Sleep is Bad For You, Too