Children who get enough sleep are more satisfied with their life

Estonian 12-year-olds who get enough sleep are more satisfied with their life compared to their peers who sleep less, as was shown by a recent international survey on children’s subjective well-being. Given the recommendation that 12-year-olds should sleep at least nine hours, only about a third of Estonian children get enough sleep. 14% of Estonian 12-year-olds sleep less than seven hours.

Although the survey did not directly clarify the reasons for getting little sleep, some correlations are noteworthy. Children who spend more time with their family and whose family members care about and help them if they have problems tend to sleep longer. Also how much the child’s teacher cares about the child affects the amount of sleep. Children who get to participate in making decisions about their life both at home and at school also sleep longer. “We can say that if a child experiences care and support at home and school and believes he or she is taken into account, the child feels safe and sleeps longer,” concluded Kadri Soo, Assistant of Social Policy of the University of Tartu, who was one of the researchers.

Duration of sleep on school days and general well-being as estimated by Estonian 12-year-olds. Source: Children’s Worlds, Estonian data, 2018

The survey also showed that doing schoolwork does not mean getting less sleep. Even the opposite: children who sleep longer also spend more time learning. It was found that children who sleep less use social media more often: 64% of children who go to bed before 22 use social media every day, compared to 86% among children who go to bed after midnight. “These results suggest that children who sleep less feel lonely in their family more often, which is why they go online to seek company from online entertainment and online friends – in case they are friends,” said Kadri Soo.

Associate Professor in Social Policy of the University of Tartu Dagmar Kutsar, the head of the research group on children’s wellbeing, added that the additional survey done in April also asked children about their coping during the corona crisis. “Most children said that the emergency situation gave them a chance to practise planning their own time and also allowed them to sleep longer in the morning. As distance learning means spending a lot of time on a computer, it seems to be less tempting,“ said Kutsar. 

The international survey showed that 12-year-olds living in the Balkan countries, southern Europe, but also in Israel and Norway are the most satisfied with their life. The subjective well-being of children from South-East Asia and Brazil is below the average. Across all countries, the children participating in the survey estimated their well‑being to be 8.7 on a scale from 0 to 11. The well-being of Estonian children is close to this average and very similar to the well-being of children from Finland, Poland and Germany. Across all countries on average, 54% of 12-year-olds are completely satisfied with their life. 52% of Estonian children and 46% of Finnish children are completely satisfied.

The frequency of meeting friends outside school as estimated by Estonian 10- and 12-year-olds. Source: Children’s Worlds, Estonian data, 2018

Home, friends and school affect children’s well-being to a great extent. In the comparison of European countries, the 12-year-olds from Albania, but also from Norway and Hungary consider their relationships at home the best. The poorest estimates on average were reported by children from Russia, Germany, Italy and Wales. Estonian children value spending time with their family more than the European average but find that their parents’ readiness to take their opinion into account is below the average. Similarly to the European average, Estonian children find that their friends are usually nice to them. However, Estonian children report getting less support from their friends compared to the children of many other European countries.

Estonian children’s responses to the statement “If I have a problem, I have a friend who will support me”. Source: Children’s Worlds, Estonian data, 2018

In general, Estonian children are more satisfied with their family and friends than with relationships at school and their teachers’ attitude towards them. Estonian children’s ratings to school are below the European average. Our children agree the least with the statement that teachers listen to them and take what they say into account. Estonian children consider schools to be safer than their peers abroad. At the same time, they are more critical towards their classmates: satisfaction with classmates is among the lowest in Europe.

It seems, however, that the emergency situation has increased the value of classmates in the eyes of Estonian children. “You will know the value of friends when you can no longer communicate with them as usual. During the emergency situation, the children’s answers revealed that direct communication with their friends was what they missed the most, which is why they would have liked to return to school. In general, children do not find that their well-being decreased significantly during the crisis, but they did report a more nervous atmosphere at home due to the emergency situation and stress related to the increased volume of schoolwork. At the same time, their well-being was increased by being together with their family and joint activities,” said Kutsar.

More than 128,000 children from 35 countries participated in the third wave of the survey of children's well-being Children’s Worlds that took place in 2018. Pupils of year 2, 4 and 6 (mostly 8, 10 and 12 years old) responded to the survey. In Estonia, the survey was carried out in 42 schools, including some that teach fully or partly in Russian. More than 3,000 children completed the questionnaire, which makes up 7–8% of all Estonian children of the same age, being a representative sample of the age group. Two thirds of the respondents completed the questionnaire in Estonian and one third in Russian. In Estonia, the survey was carried out by the research group on the well-being of children and families of the Institute of Social Studies of the University of Tartu in late autumn of the school year 2017/2018.

In addition, the researchers made 44 interviews with 4–16-year-olds in April 2020, in the middle of the corona crisis, to study their subjective well-being and coping and also ask their opinion on distance learning.

Further information:
Kadri Soo, Assistant of Social Policy of the University of Tartu, +372 737 5936, kadri.soo [ät]
Dagmar Kutsar, Associate Professor in Social Policy of the University of Tartu, +372 737 5951, dagmar.kutsar [ät]

Sandra Sommer Press Officer Tel: +(372) 737 5681
Mob: +(372) 5307 7820 sandra.sommer [ät]