Family stress and adolescents' cognitive functioning: Sleep as a protective factor

Mona El-Sheikh, Kelly M. Tu, Stephen A. Erath, Joseph A. Buckhalt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined 2 sleep-wake parameters as moderators of the associations between exposure to family stressors and adolescent cognitive functioning. Participants were 252 school-recruited adolescents (M = 15.79 years; 66% European American, 34% African American). Youths reported on 3 dimensions of family stress: marital conflict, harsh parenting, and parental psychological control. Cognitive functioning was indexed through performance on the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Sleep minutes and efficiency were measured objectively using actigraphy. Toward identifying unique effects, path models controlled for 2 family stress variables while estimating the third. Analyses revealed that sleep efficiency moderated the associations between negative parenting (harsh parenting and parental psychological control) and adolescents' cognitive functioning. The highest level of cognitive performance was predicted for adolescents with higher levels of sleep efficiency in conjunction with lower levels of either harsh parenting or psychological control. The effects of sleep were more pronounced at lower levels of negative parenting, in which adolescents with higher sleep efficiency performed better than their counterparts with poorer sleep. At higher levels of either harsh parenting or psychological control, similar levels of cognitive performance were observed regardless of sleep. Results are discussed in comparison with other recent studies on interrelations among family stress, sleep, and cognitive performance in childhood and adolescence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)887-896
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Actigraphy
  • Adolescent sleep
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Family stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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