The more we learn about sleep the more we have come to realise that it plays a central role in our lives. It is more than a simple battery recharge at night, it helps us to balance our emotions, store and recall information, flush out toxins in our brain as well as playing a critical role in a huge number of other physical and psychological functions. Not only does our sleep quality and quantity have a direct impact on these functions but in turn it has a massive impact on all the other parts of our lives, including our relationship with our children. This connection is fairly obvious, if you do not sleep well you are more irritable and grumpy and you will be less forgiving with your children. This is apparent even without scientific studies.
What we didn’t know was that it works the other way as well. A recent study found that our relationship with our children has an effect on their sleep patterns. In the past most sleep scientists believed that the key factor in the changing sleep patterns of children as they become teenagers was due to a change in the levels of melatonin but Dr. David J. Maume, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati, and author of the new study believes that it the family dynamics play a more important role: “My study found that social ties were more important than biological development as predictors of teen sleep behaviours.” This new understanding is one that places social dynamics at the core of the changing sleep patterns in children as they grow.
Dr Maume used a longitudinal sample to examine nearly 1,000 adolescents’ physical, cognitive, and social development, looking at the changes in school night sleep patterns from when they were 12 to 15 years old. Over the three year period the average sleep length changed from 9 to 8 hours.
Maume found that the key factor in the change was level of monitoring of sleep by the parents. In other words, children whose parents were more involved in their children’s sleep time, with teens with less involved parents getting less sleep than those with involved parents.
As Maume writes, “Parents who monitor their children’s behavior are more likely to have kids that get adequate rest. Given that children generally get less sleep as they become teenagers, parents should be ever more vigilant at this stage.
“When adolescents have trouble sleeping, doctors often recommend prescription drugs to address the problem,”
“My research indicates that it’s necessary to look beyond biology when seeking to understand and treat adolescents’ sleep problems.
“Such an approach may lead to more counseling or greater parental involvement in teens’ lives, both of which are less invasive than commonly prescribed medical solutions and, at least in the case of parental involvement, cheaper.”
If you want your teens to sleep well then the evidence suggest that it is all up to you. Parental involvement is a vital component in their children’s sleep habits.
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