Ask any new parent to name the biggest lifestyle change they’ve experienced since welcoming their bundle of joy, and we can just about guarantee that many (if not all) will put “lack of sleep” at the top of their list.
However, it’s a common assumption that the massive slumber cuts happen primarily during the first year of your child’s life, and that once the baby enters the early toddler phase, you can expect your sleep schedule to more-or-less revert to its pre-baby state. Well, we’ve got some disappointing news for you new moms and dads out there. According to a recent study in the Sleep journal, welcoming a baby automatically signs you up for a stretch of sleep deprivation that can last a solid six years.
The study says don’t expect “normal” sleep until your child enters kindergarten.
The Sleep journal research suggests that while the first postpartum year includes the most aggravated instances of sleep disruption, parents will find themselves subject to nocturnal disturbances for a long time to come. Specifically, the Sleep journal notes that moms and dads won’t be able to achieve quality sleep on a consistent basis for six years after the child’s birth. And, of course, the cycle begins anew every time you welcome a new addition to your family.
Moms and dads don’t lose out on sleep in equal measure.
Dr. Sakari Lemola of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick stated that “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.”
University of Warwick researchers then ran some tests and surveys to investigate Lemola’s claim, and they discovered that mothers sleep an average of one hour less during the first three months of parenthood than they did pre-baby, while fathers experience only a 15-minute sleep decrease during that time. Overall, mothers reported a 40-minute drop in sleep during the first year of their first child’s life, and while the cycle is often less extreme after birthing subsequent children, some level of heightened sleep loss still occurs.
Luckily for moms, their lack of sleep eases up between their child’s 4th and 6th birthdays, with mothers from the University of Warwick study reporting only a 20-minute decrease in sleep from their pre-baby days during that window. However, they’re still behind on the snooze front compared to their male partners; dads consistently reported only 15-minutes-less sleep than their pre-baby norm throughout their child’s early years.
So, what can be done about this? Obviously, parents are going to experience some sleep deprivation regardless of circumstances...but a more equitable division of childcare labor between moms and dads can cause a more balanced parental dynamic and provide Mom with some much-needed shut eye.