Parents Get More Sleep During the Chaotic Summer Months — Here’s Why

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Happy Family in Bed

When summer nears its end, plenty of moms gleefully buy school supplies and add the first school day to their calendars. Then the emails start coming. Soon enough, field trips, spirit weeks, and class parties begin to take up brain space. 

The kids may be out of the house, but the familiar dynamic of chaotic early mornings, multiple after-school activities, and piles of homework comes rushing back. With all the busy bustling, it may not be hard to imagine sleep taking a back seat. A new study suggests just that: moms sleep less during the school year than in the summer.

The study authors looked at school district schedule data and the American Time Use Survey to gather data on how families use their time. The results showed moms and dads got busier during the school year, which may surprise no one. But the results also revealed parents got less sleep, especially moms.

During school-year weekdays, mothers reported:

  • 25 minutes less sleep
  • 28 minutes less free time 
  • Seven minutes less exercise 

By comparison, fathers reported: 

  • 11 minutes less sleep
  • 21 minutes less free time 
  • Five minutes less exercise

While 25 minutes may not seem like a whole lot more than 11, keep in mind that 25 minutes per day comes out to almost three hours per week and 12.5 hours per month. What’s causing all this missed sleep?

School Year Sleep Blockers

Several culprits could get the blame for sleep loss in the school year, Dr. June Seliber-Klein, MD, neurology and sleep board-certified physician based in Monterey, CA tells Sleepopolis.

Early Wake-Up Times

“One [reason] is the early start times of children’s schools, especially if they are involved in activities,” says Seliber-Klein. If school starts at eight, but cross country starts at seven, the alarm clock starts chirping even earlier.

Circadian Rhythm Changes

Your body uses circadian rhythm as an internal timekeeper. It tracks when you wake up and sleep and with that information, gives you cues to rest or get moving for the day. Your body loves its schedule, and your circadian rhythm can be challenging to adjust for earlier wake times, says Seliber-Klein.

Too Much to Do

“It’s difficult to find enough time for sleep,” Seliber-Klein says. “It’s often the mothers who wake up earlier in the morning to pack lunches, make breakfast, or help the little ones get dressed.” The influx of tasks has to fit in somewhere, and moms may find themselves skimping on sleep to get it all done.

How Moms Can Get Better Sleep

Okay, now it’s time for some good news. If you are a mom and dread the loss of sleep that comes with a new school year, Seliber-Klein recommends these tips to protect your rest:

  • Do household chores over the weekend to prepare for the coming week. 
  • Encourage doing homework immediately after school to allow time for winding down and going to bed early. 
  • Lay out your clothes the night before.
  • Limit activities before school hours.
  • Pack lunches in advance.

“I know these tips can be challenging, and this phase of life makes it hard to get enough sleep,” Seliber-Klein says. “The first step is to make sleep a priority by scheduling it and organizing other necessities around it.” 

Your sleep isn’t a luxury: it’s essential. Even if you have to turn down a few extracurricular activities for yourself or your kids, that choice will pay off in spades. Getting enough quality sleep allows your body to:

  • Boost the immune system
  • Grow new bone
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Manage hunger hormones
  • Rebuild damaged tissue
  • Regulate metabolism
  • Remember important information

The kids may complain about missing a soccer season, but you can’t take anyone to games and ballet lessons if your health takes a hit. If you put your sleep first, you will be able to handle the demands of this school year with more energy, focus, and maybe even fun!

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  • Seliber-Klein, Dr. June; Author interview. July 2024.

  • Cowan B. Moms lose significant sleep and free time during kids’ school year, new study finds. The Conversation. Published June 23, 2024. Accessed July 10, 2024.

  • Cowan B, Jones T, Swigert J. Parental And Student Time Use Around The Academic Year. Nber Working Paper Series. Published April 2024. Accessed July 10, 2024.

  • American Time Use Survey. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed July 10, 2024.

  • United States School Calendar. Public Holidays Global. Accessed July 10, 2024.

  • Circadian Rhythms. National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Accessed July 10, 2024.

  • How Sleep Works – Why Is Sleep Important? | NHLBI, NIH. NHLBI, NIH. Accessed July 10, 2024.

Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy is an RN of 16 years who has worked with adults and pediatric patients encompassing trauma, orthopedics, home care, transplant, and case management. She has practiced nursing all over the world from San Fransisco, CA to Tharaka, Kenya. Abby loves spending time with her husband, four kids, and their cat named Cat.

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