11/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Moms: A New School Year Can Spell Sleep Relief (or Not)

"A woman's work is never done" - a phrase that will never go out of style, and its partner - a woman's often low-quality sleep life. At least that's what some are reporting as study after study indicate that all the multitasking in the world can't create more time to rest and enjoy leisure time.

In fact, a study that came out earlier this year in the Economist revealed that, across 18 countries, men had between 4 to 80 minutes more leisure time per day than women.

Now, 4 more minutes isn't all that much. But 80? That's plenty of time for a good long nap, more time in bed, or simply some downtime sitting on the couch.

Many moms are rejoicing at the thought of the kids going back to school. This means:

  • Keeping regular routines and a consistent schedule.
  • Having set bed times and wake times.
  • Not having to provide entertainment or activities for kids as much during long, summer days.
  • No more sleepovers, pool parties, and events way past the kids' bedtime.
  • Knowing you've got teachers and a school helping to care for the best interests of your children.

All of these things bode well for the mom trying to avoid major sleep deprivation. With the start of school, however, also come the occasional late-night homework and school projects. Calls from the nurse to come pick up sick little Suzie and take her home. And keeping up with the school-year's list of household chores like laundry, meal planning, and lunch-making.

Men and women do share more household responsibilities now more than ever, but it's still the women who carry the heaviest load of caretaking, basically acting as CEO of a family. Another recent study out of the University of Cincinnati suggests that the uneven distribution of domestic responsibilities result in stresses that may be driving a trend of lower quality sleep among working women.

Solution? Either the men have to pick up more slack, or the women have to give themselves permission to do less. Which is more realistic? I'll leave that answer to you.

But if I can give these over-tasked and over-tasking women a few tips to consider as this school year kicks off, here's a few with an eye toward better sleep:

  • Knock one item off your To Do list a day and aim to be in bed 15 minutes earlier than the previous night.
  • Give yourself a set bed time and wake time, just as you do your kids. You wouldn't let your seven year old stay up past midnight, so why should you?
  • Likewise, you watch what your kids eat before bedtime. What are you eating within an hour of your bed time? If you're in the kitchen plowing through a box of sugary cookies or leftover meatloaf,  reconsider.
  • If you read to your kids at bedtime, you're teaching them great habits for sleep hygiene. Reading can help a person to unwind, relax, and prepare for sleep. When's the last time you did something like that before putting yourself to bed? 

Welcome to the new school year. May it be filled with fresh wisdom, challenging activities, and lots of sound sleep.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

This article on moms and sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.