SLEEP
March 5, 2019

Parents on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Having children definitely cuts into your sleep, and it goes on for years, a study finds.

The birth of a child is a life-changing event. Most of those changes are enriching, but a team of researchers from Germany, the UK and the University of West Virginia recently focused on one small part of that change that isn't — how the birth of a child affects a parent's sleep.

The effects were long-lasting and strongest on mothers, probably because they were most likely to be responsible for nighttime feedings. As study co-author, Sakari Lemola, of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, explained, “Women tend to experience more sleep disruption than men after the birth of a child reflecting that mothers are still more often in the role of the primary caregiver than fathers.”

First-time parents were hit the hardest.

In the first few months after birth, mothers reported losing a full hour of sleep each day. Even six years after the birth of their first child, however, both parents reported getting less sleep than before their child was born.

During yearly interviews between 2008 and 2015, over 4,000 Germans reported the birth of their first, second or third child. They also provided information about their sleep.

Both sleep duration and satisfaction declined rapidly after childbirth, reaching their lowest point about three months afterward, with women reporting loss of an hour's sleep and men reporting a 15-minute loss. First-time parents were hit the hardest.

Even by the time their children were four to six years old, women were still getting 20 minutes less sleep a night than they did pre-pregnancy, while fathers were getting 15 minutes less.

Neither parental age nor income mattered. The same was true when single parents were compared to dual parents: the birth of a child meant less sleep and poorer sleep for the parents.

Of course there's a lot more to parenthood than just the loss of sleep, including plenty of upside. Lack of sleep can lead to depression, however, and leave people less able to cope with stress. Parents should do what they can to get enough sleep, though there are bound to be sleepless nights ahead.

The study appears in the journal, Sleep.
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