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When Parents Sleep Well, Children Sleep Well

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

The more sleep you get, the more sleep your children get. This surprising fact emerged in a new study from the University of Illinois. Maybe it’s time to rethink your own sleep habits.

The researchers focused on locating precursors to preschool obesity. Many different factors were examined, affecting 337 preschool children and their parents, including parents’ own weight, family eating habits and children’s daily screen time. The only significant factor leading to obesity in preschoolers was sleep. Children who routinely slept less than the recommended 10 hours each day were more likely to be overweight than children who got adequate sleep.

But children’s sleep was directly associated with parents’ sleep. Children of parents who got less than the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night were much more likely to get little sleep themselves. Entire families appear to be sleep-deprived! Barbara H. Fiese, director of the University of Illinois Family Resiliency Center, notes that “parents won’t get a good night’s sleep unless and until their preschool children are sleeping.” The longer children are up, the less sleep they – and their moms and dads – will get.

Fiese has found, in a previous study in which she followed families for a year, that five- to seven-year-old children in some families go to bed as late as 11 pm. They stay awake to have time with parents who work long hours and spend the evening hours cuddling with mom and dad, watching television, and finally falling asleep and being carried to bed. Parents have the best of intentions, Fiese says, and quality time is important for the entire family. But the results of sleep deprivation include grumpiness the next day, reduced alertness in school (or at work), and weight gain.

What can you do? Look at your own sleep habits first.

  1. Do you get at least 7 hours – and preferably 8 hours or more – of sleep each night? Remember that “sleep” is counted not from when you go to bed but from when you actually fall asleep. Do your children get at least 10 hours of sleep each night?
  2. Do you remember to turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes – and preferably an hour – before going to bed? The light emitted by televisions, e-readers, computers and smart phones interferes with release of the sleep hormone melatonin and can keep you awake. Do your children turn off their devices long before bedtime? Do you keep screens out of their bedrooms (and yours)?
  3. Do you limit caffeine consumption up to five hours before going to bed? This means no coffee, no cola, no chocolate or cocoa for you – or the children. Caffeine is a well-known sleep-inhibitor but did you know that alcohol also can keep you awake or cause you to wake in the middle of the night? Limit your intake of alcohol also.
  4. Do you have a reliable sleep routine? The fact is the body doesn’t usually just shut down when you shut off the light. Falling asleep is a process that is triggered by cues you establish in a nightly routine. Following the same steps every night makes sleep happen. Do your children have a reliable sleep routine too? Do they have an established bedtime?
  5. Do you get up at the same time each morning? Sleeping-in on the weekends actually can interfere with sleeping well at night. Make certain you and your children get to bed in time to sleep the necessary number of hours before everyone needs to wake up the next day.

Sleep in the summer, when evenings a light and lovely, seems less important. But sleep deprivation knows no season and overweight as a result of sleep deprivation is a serious threat.

Make getting adequate sleep a goal for everyone in your family, even for you.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.