parent sleep

No question sleep — the good and restorative kind of sleep — changes our day. Sleep is tied to our outlook, our mood, our performance, our safety, and our sense of stress/anxiety. We’re nicer people after we sleep. I often say that after a good night of sleep I get to be more of the mom I earnestly want to be. Sleep is magical that way.

Thing is, sleep has a profound effect on our perspectives and attitudes about life. In fact research has found that sleep loss causes bias in our memory — the less sleep we have the more we focus on negative events and the more our memory builds space for memories of the negative details in our life. Yikes.

You know how it is…we all do. You start the day exhausted or you head into work tired, clutching your coffee, trying to rev up for the day. Your child didn’t sleep well through the night and therefore neither did you. Happens all the time, of course and to some parents more than others. You’re wondering (and likely doing some research online) what you can do to improve their sleep. What tricks haven’t you tried? What schedule should you be following? The hidden answer might be the last thing you’d think of …your own sleep.

Thing is, if we didn’t sleep well last night we may be misrepresenting the facts of the night.

A new sleep study published in Pediatrics showed that parents who don’t sleep well may mistakenly believe their children didn’t either. The researchers studied the sleep of 100 2- to 6-year-olds in Finland and their parents. Children wore bracelets (devices called actigraphs that track movement and quantify sleep) for a week to estimate sleep duration and quality while parents kept a sleep diary for their children and filled out a sleep questionnaire. Parents’ age and education were included as relevant variables in a the study as well as the child’s age, gender, chronic illnesses, medications, and number of siblings.

People who sleep poorly overestimate their children’s sleep problems.” ~Marko Elovainio, author of Pediatrics study

Study Finding:

Parental sleeping problems correlated to frequent reports by parents of children’s sleeping problems. However, readings from the children’s actigraph bracelets did not support parents’ perceptions. Translation: parents who didn’t sleep well exaggerated the sleep problems of their children.

Previous studies show that tired people are more likely to experience & remember negative events/details and this small study seemed to confirm this. No question it makes sense that parents who aren’t sleeping well may be more attune to a child’s challenges.  

Tired parents can unconsciously exaggerate their child’s sleeping difficulties which could lead to misplaced interventions

What Parents Need To Know

  • Sleep is important for both parents and children — a “no-duh” observation. But in my life I’ve done a better job with my children’s sleep habits than my own. In clinical practice I also repeatedly see families prioritize their child’s sleep well more than their own — I may not be creating the best solutions thinking only of interventions for the child. We have to think about the whole family’s well-being in our home, after babies and as our children grow, we have to improve and prioritize our own sleep to support interventions and understand the realities of our children’s sleep.
  • If you are seeking advice from a pediatrician or family provider about your child’s sleep, make sure you’re determining sleep habits of everyone at home. Researchers concluded, “In the clinical field, it is of paramount importance to aim interventions in a child’s sleeping difficulties toward the well-being of the whole family instead of only the child….Tired parents can unconsciously exaggerate their child’s sleeping difficulties which could lead to misplaced interventions.
  • The diagnosis and treatment of children’s poor sleep is often based on reports from parents. Make sure you’re sleeping well or treating your own sleep habits in concert with your child’s.
  • Don’t sleep with a smartphone or tablet — turn off screens 1 hour before bedtime. No question the light emanating from small screens is really close to our face, potentially interfering with the naturally occurring melatonin spike before bed and our activation from texts, gaming, and stimulation from the phone can deter our falling asleep swiftly. This may cause us to exaggerate what’s going on in the rest of the house.
  • Sleep needs vary by individuals but in general, young children need 11-13 hours of sleep, school-age children need 9-10 hours of sleep, and teens need 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours. You and me? Sleep Foundation says we should still aim for at least 7 or 8 hours.

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