A Research Brief is a short excerpt about an interesting academic study.
(The Coversation) – Mothers of school-age children get significantly less sleep during the school year than in the summer.
We are economists specializing in education and health research. We combined extensive data on school district schedules with information from the U.S. Time Use Survey to explore how families change how they use their time depending on whether school is in session or over the summer.
We observed that mothers averaged 25 minutes less sleep, 28 minutes less free time, and tended to allocate 7 minutes less time to exercise on weekdays during the school year than in the summer. For comparison, the father had 11 minutes less sleep, 21 minutes less free time and 5 minutes less exercise during the school year compared to summer.
Conversely, mothers spend about 30 more minutes a day caring for others, including children, and an additional 5 minutes traveling during the school year. This often includes transporting children to and from school.
Interestingly, while both mothers and fathers spend more time physically with their children at home during the summer, they both spend more time during the school year doing things like helping with homework or reading together. , spends a lot of time actively engaging with children. However, the effect was almost three times greater for women than for men, with mothers spending 34 extra minutes per day actively engaging with their children during the school year, while fathers spent 12 minutes more.
Our study also observed teenagers aged 15-17, the only children included in the time use study.
During the school year, teenagers sleep about 1 hour and 20 minutes (13%) less than in the summer, and have more than 2 hours (33%) less free time each day. This reduction in free time includes nearly an hour and a half less time spent using television, games (including video games), and computers each day.
why it matters
Previous studies have shown that there are gender differences in mental health, with women doing worse than men when it comes to coping with things like anxiety and depression. A woman is also four times as likely as a man to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that usually occurs in the fall and winter.
Our results suggest that increased demands placed on mothers during the school year may exacerbate these problems.
Regarding teens getting more sleep, our findings support the argument that schools should start later so teens can get more sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start by 8:30 a.m. to ensure that adolescents get enough sleep to maintain their mental health and academic performance. However, the average start time for high schools in the United States is 8:00 am.
Our results also suggest that teenagers may be particularly susceptible to media overconsumption when school is closed. Teenagers themselves say they spend too much time looking at screens.
what we don’t know yet
It is not yet known what effect these schedule changes will have on the mental health of teens. While some indicators of teens’ mental health improve during the summer, teenagers spend much of their extra summer time in front of screens, leading to excessive screen time and depression. Studies have linked it to elevated levels of disease and worsening mental health.
This article was updated on July 31, 2023 with new charts.