A father looks at a baby on a bedShare on Pinterest
Children’s sleep difficulties can cause increased stress for parents, Kelly Knox/Stocksy
  • Researchers say sleep disorders in adults as well as children in a household can increase parental stress levels.
  • They note that stress can also produce poor quality sleep in return.
  • Among the recommendations for better quality sleep are maintaining a consistent bedtime and nighttime routine.

If you or a child in your household has a sleep disorder, chances are you’re all experiencing elevated stress and sleeping difficulties.

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE reports that the rate of parental stress is significantly greater among parents who have sleep disorders themselves or have children with sleep disorders.

Sleep disorders examined in the study include:

Sleep disorders and stress are known to have a two-way relationship whereby experiencing excessive stress has a negative impact on overall sleep health and poor sleep health has a negative impact on stress levels and the ability to cope.

The researchers examined how this relationship differs among parents, specifically.

The study included data from more than 14,000 employees insured by Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrator (DMBA) in 2020. All participants had dependent children living in the household.

Within the year, slightly more than 2% of employees filed medical claims for treating stress and 12% filed claims for treating a sleep disorder.

During the same time span, medical claims for a sleep disorder were made for 2% of dependent children.

After adjusting for age, biological sex, and marital status, researchers reported that the rates of stress were significantly greater in employees with a sleep disorder.

Specifically, rates of stress were found to be:

  • 3 times greater for those with insomnia
  • 1.88 times greater for those with sleep apnea
  • 1.9 times greater if their child has any sleep disorder
  • 2.89 times greater if their child has insomnia

Researchers also reported that if a child has a sleep disorder, the rate of parental insomnia and sleep apnea are both nearly double.

From this, the researchers suggested that a better understanding of the connections between parent and child sleep quality and parent stress may help improve treatment and lower the risk of these disorders.

Shelby Harris, PsyD, CBSM, is a licensed clinical psychologist, a clinical associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and the director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis.

“Sleep is the foundation with which our emotion processing and mood is built,” she told Healthline. “Without proper sleep, we are at higher levels of stress.”

“The study offers further understanding on why it’s critical to work on good sleep for the entire family, parents, and children alike,” she added.

Harris also noted that the study highlighted the interconnection between sleep, stress, and family health even further.

Dr. Shalini Paruthi, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and is board certified in sleep medicine and internal medicine, explained that beyond mood, poor sleep quality will also affect daytime alertness and attention to detail.

“When we get good quality sleep and sufficient sleep, our brains are better able to interpret and cope with the frequent stressors we face each day,” she told Healthline.

While there are several things you and your family members can do to improve the sleep health of the whole family, Harris highlights that the secret to better sleep comes down to consistency.

This means it’s more beneficial to do some of the following tips all the time than to do all the recommendations some of the time.

Keep a consistent bed and waketime

“Keeping a consistent bed and wake time can help improve sleep for both parents and their children,” said Harris. “Children sticking to a set bedtime can also give the parents time to build their own nighttime routines around their usual bedtime.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests maintaining this consistency 7 days a week, including any non-working days or weekends.

The AASM notes this consistency in bed and waketime should also include any vacation time.

In considering a suitable bedtime, the AASM says to plan enough time to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

Maintain a consistent routine before bedtime

“Everyone should have a bedtime routine, from age 1 day old to 100-plus years old,” says Paruthi.

She explains that bedtime routines help our brains better transition from being fully alert to drifting off to sleep. She suggests aiming for a bedtime routine that is 10 to 30 minutes long.

“Having a consistent nighttime routine can help the brain and body associate those activities or steps with sleep,” said Harris. “This can help parents and children to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.”

According to Paruthi, a child’s bedtime routine may include any or all of the following:

  • bedtime snack
  • shower/bath
  • brush teeth
  • reading/singing
  • snuggles/hugs/kisses
  • lights out

Moreover, Paruthi says that whatever you do, it’s important to do the same activities in the same order every single night, even when getting home late from evening activities like sports practices or games (just try to do the routine a little quicker).

Why morning light is important

Your sleep routine really does include the morning hours, too.

Sleep experts say it’s important to make sure to get bright light in the morning.

“Light in the morning can help parents and children feel more awake during the morning/afternoon, and help them get better quality sleep in the evening,” Harris explained.

You can get more morning light with these tips from Harris:

  • Open up the shades, curtains, or blinds upon waking
  • Go on a walk in the morning hours if possible (even a short work will help)
  • Use a sunrise alarm clock if it’s still dark out when you and your family are waking up

Again, she says, consistency is key here.

Approximately 70 million people in the United States have at least one sleep disorder, but experts also estimate that up to 80% of sleep disorders may go undetected or undiagnosed, according to an article published in journal Pharmacy and Therapeutics.

The article author suggests sleep disorders, pain disorders, and mental health conditions may overlap and further complicate diagnosis and treatment.

This means if you have sleeping difficulties, you’re not alone. So what can you do?

According to the AASM, if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of being in bed, you should stop trying.

They suggest getting out of bed and doing a quiet activity without a lot of light exposure.

“It is especially important to not get on electronics,” they note.

The CDC adds that if you’re having trouble sleeping, or if someone in the household is, try keeping a sleeping diary for 10 days before seeing your healthcare provider to discuss.

Your sleep diary should include when you:

  • Go to bed
  • Go to sleep
  • Wake up
  • Get out of bed
  • Take naps
  • Exercise
  • Drink alcohol
  • Drink caffeinated beverages

“Also remember to mention if you are taking any medications (over-the-counter or prescription) or supplements because they may make it harder for you to sleep,” according to the CDC.