Ellie Hearne
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Founder & CEO, Pencil or Ink

A recent study just affirmed something that will surprise few moms: dads are getting more sleep than we are.  

But two aspects of these findings are a little more surprising — even troubling: the extent of that lost rest, especially early on (sleep deprivation, anyone?) and the duration of it, particularly where moms are concerned. It turns out, moms are losing sleep well beyond the sleep-training months. Dads, meanwhile, are doing just fine.  

So what’s going on here? We know that equality at work is good for business and we know that co-parenting is good for families. So why are the guys getting all the sleep?

Sure, fathers can’t breastfeed, so in many ways it makes sense that moms will sleep less early on. But the sleep discrepancy persists after infanthood. 

Like its wage-gap sister, the gender-sleep gap needs to be addressed, and fast. After all, how can we lean in at work if we’re physically disadvantaged (i.e., really bleeping tired) before we even clock in at the office? By necessity, by choice or simply by default, we frequently take on the bulk of the "second shift" at home, setting ourselves back at work as a result.

During maternity leave, couples often develop habits where the mother does the “night duty” of getting up when the baby cries. And when she’s back at work (assuming she even got parental leave), these patterns often persist. As women, we often carry the cognitive load of managing a household, while the men wait to be asked to help out. A point beautifully illustrated here. 

So, it’s all the men’s fault? Not exactly.

One of the more interesting aspects of parenthood for me is how it’s forced me to notice and check my own sexist assumptions. This surprised me more than anyone, proud daughter of a second-wave feminist that I am. 

But I’ve heard myself say the following when it comes to sharing the household work: “It’s just easier if I make her packed lunch for daycare.” Or “I hear the baby crying first and I’m just better at quieting her down at night.” Or, on days when my little one is too sick for daycare, “I’ll just stay home with her today - you go to work.”

Makes sense, right? I did all the baby care whilst on maternity leave - and even friends, family, and coworkers expect the same of moms beyond those early weeks.

But think about it. 1. These little “it’s just easier if…” moments cost us sleep. And 2. If a male boss told me the male employees were “just better at decision-making” or “it’s just easier when they do the execution” I’d have a lot to say about it.  

So yeah, moms are sleeping less than dads. But the reprecussions are broad - and the solution involves a whole lot more than hitting the snooze button.

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Ellie Hearne is an experienced leadership coach and founder of Pencil or Ink. She has worked with leaders at Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Marriott — as well as numerous start-ups. She tweets about life and feminism here, and about leadership and communications here

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