Child Sleep, From ZZZ's to A's

How better sleep relates to learning, memory, and behavior

Parents’ Irregular Working Hours Affect Children’s Sleep

Some businesses make it difficult for parents to supervise sleep schedules


In this blog I have emphasized many times not only the importance of sufficiently long period of sleep for children, but also that the sleep periods need to be fairly consistent from day to day.  In our own research, we have found that especially in children from low income homes, irregularity of sleep schedules is often linked to daytime problems such as academic underachievement, poor mood regulation, and disruptive behavior (e.g. El-Sheikh et al. 2013). Sleep scheduling for young children is most often dictated by parents, and parents must be available to see that children get to sleep at a reasonable hour.  One longstanding barrier to coordination of some children’s and parents’ activities has been that some parents work long hours, coming home after a child’s bedtime, or work night shifts and have to be absent altogether at bedtime.  In an article in the New York Times (Cantor, 2014), a more recent phenomenon was described that affects a large and growing number of lower income families.  More and more companies have employees on call to work very early or late hours, and some persons don’t even know their work schedules until a few hours before they have to report for work.  Among the companies mentioned in the article is Starbucks, and a manager for one of their suppliers is quoted as saying the variable work schedules were instrumental for optimizing efficiency and profits.  Politicians are constantly extolling the virtues of business and claiming that their party promotes positive family values. But is a successful business model that pulls working parents out of the home during evening and very early morning hours coming at the cost of parental supervision of children (in this case of bedtimes and wake times?) One Starbucks employee was said to have to get her son out of bed at 5:00 AM to take him to daycare and commute to her job.  Americans want their coffee early in the morning and also late into the night, so Starbucks has given us that and profited handsomely in the process.

I have previously written that school systems with early school start times and community recreation programs that schedule events on school nights are making it difficult for many children to get regular, sufficient sleep.  I have described here how the business sector can add to those problems.  As we wring our hands about underperformance of American school children on national and international tests and about high rates of behavior and emotional problems, it is worth emphasizing that while parents are responsible for making sure children get sufficient sleep (plus exercise and nutrition), many sectors of society are making their jobs difficult or impossible.

 

Cantor, J. (2014). Working Anything but 9 to 5: Scheduling Technology Leaves Low Income Parents with Hours of Chaos.  New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/starbucks-workers-scheduling-hours.html

El-Sheikh, M., Bagley, E. J., Keiley, M., Elmore-Staton, L., Chen, E., & Buckhalt, J. A. (2013). Economic adversity and children's sleep problems: Multiple indicators and moderation of effects. Health Psychology, 32, 849-859

 

Joseph A. Buckhalt, Ph.D., is Wayne T. Smith Distinguished Professor and Former Director of the School Psychology Program at Auburn University.

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