NEWS 2011

Rise and Shine? It's Easier for Kids When a Parent Works Part-Time

sleeping baby

Children who have a stay-at-home parent sleep on average about 20 minutes less—and children whose parents work overtime sleep about a half hour less—compared to those with parents who work part-time, according to a new study by IPR and MDRC researchers.

Though these differences might seem slight, they can have long-lasting effects, say the researchers, who pointed to a previous study showing that students who earn mostly A’s and B’s in school slept on average 25 minutes longer than their peers.

The importance of a good night’s sleep for children’s physical, emotional, and cognitive development is well documented. However, little is known about the factors that shape children’s sleep patterns, Adam said.

That is why IPR graduate research assistant and lead author Cassandra Hart, IPR psychobiologist Emma Adam, and Emily Snell of MDRC, undertook a study of how parental work schedules affect their children’s sleep. They examined time-diary data of 5-to-18-year olds in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative sample.

In accounting for the differences in how long children get to sleep, the researchers find wake times, not bedtimes, matter. Thus, a child whose parent or primary caregiver starts work between 7 and 9 a.m. wakes up earlier and sleeps less overall than one whose primary caregiver does not work.

Most surprising perhaps was that those children with a stay-at-home parent slept as little as children whose parents or caregivers work full-time. The researchers tested whether this might be because stay-at-home mothers were prone to more depression than their employed peers, thus affecting their children’s sleep routines, but they did not find this to be the case.

The children who got the most shuteye were those with a primary caregiver holding a part-time job, the study shows, no matter whether the child lives in a one- or two-parent household.

“We are still unsure exactly why part-time adult work schedules encourage later wake-up times for children than those with stay-at-home caregivers,” Adam said. “But we hope that future research will tease out mediating factors, such as daily regimens or caregivers’ self-esteem, that might unlock these puzzling outcomes.”

Emma Adam is Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and an IPR Faculty Fellow.

Cassandra Hart is a Doctoral Student in the School of Education and Social Policy.

Emily Snell is a Research Associate at MDRC.

Photo credit: Sally Cushmore