The latest sleep news for parents
Parents have their children’s sleep to think about, as well as tending to their own rest. With so much going on during the waking day, sleep sometimes gets pushed aside or overlooked. While understandable, it’s not in parents’ or kids’ best interests to ignore sleep or diminish its importance to health, safety, and daily functioning. Families are happier and healthier when both parents and children are sleeping well.
Let’s take a look at some of the latest news that pertains to families’ sleep.
Parenting solo, on too little sleep
Insufficient sleep is a full-blown public health problem. Tens of millions of adults in the United States are not getting the quantity or quality of sleep they need to function well during the day. Health, productivity, and relationships all suffer as a result of poor sleep.
The adults most at risk for insufficient sleep? Single parents. That’s according to a recent sleep survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. The survey found that single parents are the most likely among all adults to experience short sleep duration. They are also the most likely to have trouble falling asleep, and to wake feeling un-rested.
- Single moms are at the greatest risk for sleep problems, more so than single dads. Among single mothers, 43.5 percent sleep less than 7 hours a night (or within a 24-hour period). Single fathers don’t do a whole lot better, with 37.5 percent sleeping less than 7 hours nightly.
- Approximately 50 percent of single parents wake feeling un-refreshed on a frequent basis. That’s significant more than adults in two-parent households (42 percent) or adults without children (35 percent). Again, single mothers are more likely than single fathers to start their days feeling tired and un-rested.
- In every type of family that the CDC survey examined, women were more likely than men to sleep less, to have more trouble falling asleep, and to wake feeling not well rested. This includes single parent households, two-parent households, and families without children.
Single parents carry great responsibilities, often without an abundance of support. For single moms and dads, establishing a routine sleep and wake schedule is critical to getting sufficient sleep and avoiding the pile-up of excessive sleep debt. Plan evenings and mornings with both your children’s sleep and your own sleep in mind—and once you identify a routine that works, stick to it faithfully.
Sleep problems affect behaviors of high-performing kids
Sleep is often considered a factor in children with behavioral and academic performance issues at school. (I say often, not always, because it’s true—sleep is still at times overlooked as an issue in assessment of children’s behavior and performance.)
However, just because a child isn’t exhibiting struggles or issues with performance, doesn’t mean that sleep problems aren’t interfering with their daily functioning. New research indicates that sleep issues need careful consideration among children with strong performance records. Scientists at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center found that in high-performing children, sleep problems may still be interfering with behavior and other performance measures.
Researchers found that high-performing children experienced improvements to their behavior—including attention and hyperactivity levels as well as cognitive performance—after sleep problems were addressed. The improvements of high-performing children were similar in degree to the improvements of children lower on the performance scale.
Poor breathing during sleep
This study looked specifically at the treatment of sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep disordered breathing includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other difficulties with breathing during sleep. Previous research has strongly indicated that sleep-disordered breathing can lead to behavioral problems, and that children with behavioral and performance problems improve their performance after sleep-disordered breathing is treated.
This study appears to be the first to show that treating sleep-disordered breathing improves performance among children who are already doing well in school, and functioning overall at high levels.
The takeaway? Symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing should never be ignored in children. They include:
- Gasping, choking, snorting sounds
- Pauses of breath
- Loud breathing through the mouth
- Restless sleep
If your child regularly experiences any of these symptoms, discuss them with your pediatrician and consider a consultation with a sleep specialist.
New moms go without infant sleep advice
It would seem to be an essential and rudimentary aspect of working with pregnant women and brand-new moms: helping them to become informed about sleep issues related to their infants. Unfortunately, according to recent research, many new mothers aren’t hearing about infant sleep from their doctors. Scientists at Boston University, Boston Medical Center, and Yale University analyzed information from a nationally-representative group of new mothers, and found that many new mothers go without hearing sleep advice from their doctors or other health practitioners.
The study included 1,031 new mothers from 32 hospitals around the U.S. The mothers responded to questionnaires about infant care guidance they received from physicians and other medical practitioners, as well as from family and the media. Sleep was one of several aspects of infant care about which researchers inquired. They found:
- 20 percent of new mothers reported receiving no advice from doctors about infants’ sleep position
- More than 50 percent of moms received no advice from doctors about where there infants should sleep
Some women who did receive advice from their physicians about these topics were given instructions that were at odds with evidence-based guidelines:
- More than 25 percent of women who were given advice from physicians about infant sleep position and sleep location received advice that did not align with evidence-based guidelines.
The American Association of Pediatricians issues guidelines on sleep for infants, which address sleep position and sleep location, as well as other safe-sleep practices:
- The AAP recommends infants sleep on their backs, during nighttime sleep and during all naps.
- The AAP recommends that infants sleep in the same room with parents’, but not in the same bed.
Both of these practices—as well as the other infant sleep recommendations issued by the AAP—help infants to sleep safely, reducing the risk of injury or accident during sleep as well as the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
New parents have enough to deal with during their children’s first weeks and months, without the additional worry that comes from being uncertain about how to manage their infants’ sleep. These results need to be a real wake-up call for doctors and health practitioners: make sure sleep is a topic of conversation with new moms and dads, and make sure sleep guidance is in line with best practices.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™