School Year Challenges: How Moms Navigate Less Sleep, Exercise, and Free Time

**Moms’ Sleep and Time Allocation During the School Year vs. Summer**

Moms of school-age children experience significant differences in sleep and time allocation between the school year and the summer. This article examines data on school district schedules and the American Time Use Survey to understand how families use their time differently depending on the academic calendar.

**Sleep and Time Allocation Differences between School Year and Summer**

During the school year, moms tend to sleep 25 minutes less, have 28 minutes less free time, and allocate seven minutes less for exercise on weekdays compared to the summer. Fathers also experience reduced sleep by 11 minutes during the school year, along with 21 minutes less free time and five fewer exercise minutes.

**Increased Responsibilities during the School Year**

Mothers spend about half an hour more per day taking care of others during the school year, including their children. Additionally, they allocate five extra minutes for travel, usually involving driving their kids to and from school.

**Parental Engagement with Children**

Interestingly, both mothers and fathers spend more time actively engaged with their children during the school year compared to the summer. However, the effect is more significant for women, with moms spending an extra 34 minutes per day actively engaged with their children during the school year, compared to an extra 12 minutes for dads.

**Impact on Mental Health and Seasonal Affective Disorder**

Research suggests that women experience a gender gap in mental health, with women often facing higher levels of anxiety and depression. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, which commonly occurs in the fall and winter months. The additional demands placed on mothers during the school year may contribute to these mental health challenges.

**Impact on Teenagers’ Sleep and Free Time**

Teenagers between the ages of 15-17 experience significant changes in sleep and free time during the school year and summer. They sleep approximately one hour and 20 minutes less during the school year, which represents a 13% reduction. They also have over two hours less free time each day, including a significant decrease in time spent on television, video games, and computer use.

**Importance of School Start Times and Media Overconsumption**

These findings support arguments for later school start times for teenagers to allow them to get more sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to promote sufficient sleep for mental health and academic achievement. However, the average start time for U.S. high schools is 8 a.m.

Additionally, the results suggest that teenagers may be more susceptible to media overconsumption during the summer months. Excessive screen time has been linked to higher levels of depression and poorer mental health in previous studies.

**Unknown Factors**

Further research is needed to understand how these schedule changes affect the mental health of teenagers. While some measures of teen mental health improve during the summer, the significant increase in screen time during this period may have negative implications.


Understanding the differences in sleep and time allocation between the school year and summer can shed light on the challenges faced by moms and teenagers. These findings emphasize the importance of considering mental health and effective time management strategies in educational and family policies.

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