Parents still lose sleep worrying about grown children, study confirms

Parenting does not end when children become independent adults. No matter what age their children are, parents constantly care about their children’s well-being. In fact, one recent study shows that parents are losing sleep and experience stress caused by worry on their children’s health, financial status, career, social relationships, and other life concerns.

The ‘empty nest syndrome’ is real and is even worse.

I feel that many share this value, yet I think much of the socialization in our culture focuses on family when children are younger,” admits Amber J. Seidel of Pennsylvania State University. Seidel analyzed the relationship between the sleep patter of parents and the parent’s worry over their children. The relationship shows significant effect of this worry even when the child reaches adulthood.

The study aims to “help us understand how family continues to be a central part of our lives throughout adulthood, and I encourage considering family-level influences in all situations.” 186 middle-aged married couples were involved in the study and asked three main questions:

• How stressed they are
• How much support they offer
• How much sleep they are getting

The types of support identified in the study vary from the practical support such as financial help to emotional support such as advice and sharing daily activities. The participants were asked to rate each specific support they give their children on the scale of 1 to 8, with 1 being the most frequent and 8 being the least often.

Furthermore, the participants were asked to rate how much stress caused them in providing help to their children and the level of worry about their children, from 1 being “not at all” to 5 being a “great deal”.

The results show that the male parents slept on average 6.66 per night while the female parents slept about 6.69 hours per night. Apparently, the male parents slept more than their female counterparts. For them, the support that they give to their adult children is related to poorer sleep. On the other hand, the poorer sleep quality that the female parents experienced was caused by the stress over the support they give to their children.

The overall findings of the study show that giving support itself stressed male parents, while the stress over the support affected the female parents.

Seidel also came up with a hypothesis: the stress may be caused by the level of involvement of the parents on the lives of their adult children.

Current research on young adults suggests that parents and children are maintaining high levels of involvement,” Seidel adds. “Although parents and adult children have always maintained some level of involvement, we do see an increase in what is often termed ‘helicopter parenting’ and ‘landing pad’ children.

The increasing availability of communication technology in households such as smartphones and social media also gives parents more information and update on their children’s lives. This factor, Seidel says, may lead to more worry and stress that’s worth noting.

However, experiencing stress in life is inevitable and it is not the problem. “It is the inability to cope in healthy ways with the stress that is problematic and may lead to immune suppression,” Seidel adds. It is necessary for the parents to reflect on their level of involvement to their children’s life, how their children receive it, and how it affects their children.

It is normal for parents to feel loneliness, sadness, and loss of purpose after their children leave home. Seidel says that the key to coping with stress and improve sleep is to take action. The effective coping mechanisms include daily exercise, well-balanced meal, time for one’s self, limit alcohol intake, community work, and support group.

Seidel encourages further study to explore how the relationships between parents and adult children can affect their health and overall well-being.

No parent would stop loving their children when they reach adulthood. It is important to cherish this value and maintain healthy relationship and well-being for the benefit of everyone.

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