You don’t say!…..I think we all suspect that but researchers have come up with a little more detail. In a new study new parents were interviewed to see how much sleep they got each night and how good that sleep was. The researchers carried out the annual interviews with 4,659 people who had a child during over an 8-year period.
Both men and women said their sleep decreased in amount and quality after the birth of their first child and their sleep didn’t settle back to previous levels for 4 to 6 years after the birth.
The difference from sleep before pregnancy was most significant 3 months after giving birth, when women reported sleep shorter by an average off just over an hour and men by nearly quarter of an hour. The researchers found factors such as age, wealth and single parenthood did not make any difference.
Breastfeeding women slept on average 14 minutes less than women who didn't breastfeed.
It is pretty common knowledge that disrupted sleep is part of becoming a new parent, particularly when babies are young and cry at night.
The researchers asked the parents 2 questions about sleep:
Firstly, how long they slept on average on a weekday and weekend and secondly, how satisfied they were with their sleep, on a scale of 0 to 10.
They interviewed 2,541 women and 2,118 men who reported the birth of a first, second or third child during the study period, which was from 2008 to 2015.
The study did include the family income, type of housing, whether the family included 1 or 2 parents, presence of other children and whether the mother breastfed to what effect, if any, other factors may have.
The researchers considered how sleep changed during pregnancy and then after the child was born. They compared sleep after the birth of a child to the parents' pre-pregnancy sleep reports, separated into male and female cohorts. They then looked to see whether additional factors such as household income made a difference to the level of change in sleep length or satisfaction.
Before pregnancy, men and women reported similar sleep length of 7 hours 9 minutes (women) and 7 hours 11 minutes (men).
The most striking change in sleep came 3 months after the birth of a first child. Compared to pre-pregnancy sleep:
women slept an average 62 minutes less, and scored 1.81 points lower on the 0 to 10 scale of sleep satisfaction
men slept an average 13 minutes less, and scored 0.79 points lower
Women's sleep length and quality also declined after the birth of their second and third children, but not to the same extent. This may be because their sleep was already shorter and less satisfying after the first child. Men also had a drop in sleep length after their second and third child, although their sleep satisfaction was unaffected by the third child.
The changes to sleep appear to have a lasting effect, after the first child was aged 4 to 6:
women slept an average 22 minutes less than before pregnancy, and scored 0.95 points lower for sleep satisfaction
men slept an average 14 minutes less, and scored 0.64 points lower
Only breastfeeding seemed to affect how long parents slept after the birth of a child (and only in women).
Breastfeeding women slept an average 14 minutes less than non-breastfeeding women. Being a single parent, being better off and being older made no difference.
The researchers said the long-term changes in sleep patterns seen in the study were unexpected.
They said the differences between sleep changes in men and women "may be associated with the observation that mothers, including working women, spend more time on household and child rearing tasks compared with fathers".
They add that "advice and support should be routinely given to new parents preparing for childbirth, towards managing sleep expectations and to encourage them to take precautions to reduce risks from the effects of sleep fragmentation and deprivation".
It is hardly an incredible revelation that having children disrupts parents' sleep. What is surprising is that the change is so long-lasting, with sleep not having recovered to pre-pregnancy levels 4 to 6 years later.
The study provides interesting information to quantify the amount of sleep loss parents experience, and how that changes over time.
If you are expecting a child you will likely experience a certain amount of sleep disruption, especially in the first 3 months of the new baby’s life. It may help to know that sleep does improve over time, even if you don’t completely return to pre-pregnancy sleep patterns. Twins, triplets and quads….well that could be another matter entirely…
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