Sheila's Balancing Act

This working mom found that the secret to career success and harmony at home was attending to her family's (and her own) sleep needs.

It's important for me to get enough sleep so I can be a good parent to my kids and also have enough energy to progress professionally.Sheila

Balancing the often competing needs of career and family is at the top of the priorities list for most working parents. The National Sleep Foundation's 2007 Sleep in America poll1 found that:

  • 52 percent of women admitted to sacrificing sleep when they are too busy with the demands of work and family.
  • 80 percent of women said that when they experience sleepiness during the day they just accept it and keep going.

And while balancing work and family can be difficult for both parents, research demonstrates that women, even when they also work outside the home, carry the predominant responsibility for child care and household duties.

Sheila's Challenge

When Sheila, a 34-year-old Massachusetts district attorney became pregnant with her first child, her biggest fear was that she would not be able to get adequate sleep and fulfill the responsibilities of her high-pressure job. In fact, when she returned to work four months after giving birth to her son Martin, she experienced extreme fatigue due to his frequent nighttime awakenings. Sheila had difficulty concentrating at work and worried that her trouble in focusing might lead to her losing an important case. She often felt tired, irritable, and uncharacteristically depressed.

Solving the Problem

A friend of Sheila's suggested that she read a book about getting children on a good sleep schedule. The book taught Sheila about the importance of adhering to consistent routines, and putting her children's—and her own—sleep needs first. When she and her husband Ciaran decided to organize their lives around their children's sleep, they themselves began to get better sleep. As a result, Sheila felt that her focus at work improved, as did her mood and overall quality of life.

Learning from Sheila's Story: What You Can Do

  • Giving up on healthy sleep for your career or family's sake is not the answer. Sleep cannot be sacrificed without a cost to you, your workplace, and your family. However, like Sheila, you can find a balance. See Adopt Good Sleep Habits for practical tips.
  • Part of being a good mom or a good lawyer means putting sleep first. One crucial realization for Sheila was that it was important for her kids to get the sleep they needed and for the family to be on a good sleep schedule in order to meet the demands of their daily lives.
  • Young children need more sleep than many of them actually get. Lack of adequate sleep can lead to problems with learning and behavior. See Assess Your Sleep Needs to find out how much sleep you and your child really need.
  • Many people believe that becoming parents means years of sacrificing their sleep—particularly when their children are very young. As Sheila's story shows, this is just not true. To help your child develop lifelong healthy sleep habits, see Dr. Richard Ferber's classic book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, referenced below.
  • Watch the video of Kirsten's Story in Healthy Sleep to see how another mom was successful in developing healthy sleep habits in her children.

Resources and References

  1. National Sleep Foundation, 2007 Sleep in America Poll

Ferber, Richard, MD. Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, 1985, 2006. Simon & Schuster, Fireside Edition.


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This content was last reviewed on December 12, 2008