Parents' Work Experiences Affect Children's Sleep Health

A new study reveals how parents’ experiences at work can have a strong effect on their children’s lives.

For example, in a new workplace intervention designed to reduce employees’ work-family conflict and increase schedule flexibility, children of the employees experienced improved quality of sleep, even one year later.

The intervention, called Support-Transform-Achieve-Results (STAR), involved:

  • training supervisors to be more supportive of their employees’ personal and family lives;
  • changing the structure of work so that employees have more control over their work time, and;
  • changing the culture in the workplace so that colleagues are more supportive of each other’s efforts to integrate their work and personal lives.

“These findings show the powerful effect that parents’ workplace experiences can have on their children,” said Dr. Susan McHale, distinguished professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University.

“The STAR intervention focused solely on workplace experiences, not on parenting practices. We can speculate that the STAR intervention helped parents to be more physically and emotionally available when their children needed them to be.”

The researchers have conducted several tests on the effects of the intervention. In a previous study, for example, they showed that the STAR program resulted in employed parents spending more time with their children without reducing their work time.

In this study, the findings revealed that children whose parents participated in the STAR intervention showed an improved quality of sleep one year later compared to the children of employees who had been assigned to a control group.

The children in the study were ages nine through 17, which is a crucial age group for developing healthy sleep habits, as kids become more independent and more involved with friends, school, and social activities, McHale said.

For the study, the researchers measured sleep patterns by interviewing employees’ children on the phone every evening for eight consecutive days both before and after the STAR intervention.

Each night they asked the children about their sleep patterns on the previous night, including what time they went to bed, what time they woke up that morning, how well they slept, and how hard it was to fall asleep.

An important part of this method was collecting the data on consecutive nights. “Precision of reports is enhanced by getting the data on a daily basis,” McHale said.

The study is part of the Work, Family and Health Network’s evaluation of the effects of the STAR intervention.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Source: Penn State