When you become a parent, you know you’re going to be tired. You prepare for it. You expect it and to some extent, you accept it otherwise you wouldn’t do it (possibly again and again and again). Being sleep deprived is a badge of parenting.
Most people convince themselves that a few months or maybe a year of awful sleep is worth a beautiful, bundle of joy.
But according to a new study, when you sign up to be a parent, you’re also signing up for years and years of sleep deprivation. The study, published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Sleep Research Society, found that even SIX YEARS after having a child, parents’ sleep still hadn’t fully recovered.
In the paper ‘Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers’, a collaboration with the German Institute for Economic Research and the West Virginia University, sleep was studied in 4,659 parents who had a child between 2008 and 2015. Yearly sleep interviews were conducted to gain long-term data.
“While having children is a major source of joy for most parents it is possible that increased demands and responsibilities associated with the role as a parent lead to shorter sleep and decreased sleep quality even up to 6 years after birth of the first child,” study co-author Dr. Sakari Lemola, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, said in a press release.
The study found that – not surprisingly – sleep satisfaction and the duration of sleep sharply decline after childbirth, reaching its most miserable point during the first three months after having a baby.
Also, not surprising, both sleep satisfaction and duration were much lower for new mothers than for fathers.
Factor in breastfeeding
New mothers reported an average sleep reduction of 62 minutes per night. (That’s it?) New dads reported a sleep reduction of about 13 minutes per night. Breastfeeding was highlighted as a reason for the greater reduction in minutes of shut eye for the mothers.
“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,” Lemola said.
However, six years later, parents still reported being sleep deprived and that their sleep had not returned to normal. Mothers’ sleep was still reported as being reduced by 20 minutes each night six years later. Dads reported 15 minutes less than before the baby joined the family.
First time parents more sleep deprived
Additionally, first time parents’ sleep effects were more pronounced compared to the parents that already had other children. Six months after birth sleep effects were also more pronounced in breastfeeding mothers than bottle feeding mothers.
However, higher household income and psychosocial factors such as dual vs. single parenting did not seem to matter much. Possibly because no matter what your life is like, kids are exhausting.
To read the abstract and for more information on the study, click here.