A new study shows that not only are parents of babies exhausted, but that poor parental sleep continues into their children's elementary school years.

By Tina Donvito
kryzhov/Shutterstock

February 27, 2019

In today's edition of "Science States the Obvious," a new study published in the journal Sleep finds that new moms and dads—particularly moms—face less sleep in the first three months of their baby's life than before pregnancy. But for those hoping for a reprieve once their little ones start sleeping through the night, we've got bad news: The research also discovered you'll likely get less shut-eye per night all the way into childhood.

Parents can't get no sleep "satisfaction"

The observational study looked at reports from over 4,650 parents who had a child between 2008 and 2015 to determine the duration of their nightly sleep and rate their sleep satisfaction on a scale of zero to 10. Not surprisingly, in the first three months after birth, mothers got an hour less sleep per night—while fathers' sleep only decreased by 15 minutes. Cue exasperated sighs from every new mom who's looked on as her partner blissfully snores through their baby's crying.

To be fair, many moms do have the sole responsibility of breastfeeding, so it makes sense that they spend more time awake during the night than dads. Moms who bottle-fed didn't lose as much sleep during their babies' first six months as moms who breastfed. Even so, "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," study author Sakari Lemola, Ph.D., of the department of psychology at the University of Warwick in the UK, said in a statement.

As children grew, the sleep disruption gap between moms and dads narrowed to only a five-minute difference. But, parents in general were still losing sleep, with 20 minutes less per night (15 for dads) in parents of four to six-year-olds than before pregnancy. Sleep satisfaction was also down, not surprising to anyone who's had to deal with their child's bad dreams, sickness, bathroom trips, or 5 a.m. wake-ups—not to mention the parental worries that have a way of creeping into your thoughts at bedtime.

First-parents parents rate their sleep even more poorly

Becoming a first-time mother did have stronger effects on sleep quality compared with experienced women, likely because the more experienced already had lowered sleep quality to begin with. But in terms of duration, a new baby affected parents' length of sleep no matter if it was a first or subsequent child.

Other factors you might think would affect the rates of sleep, such as higher household income (hello, night nanny), younger parental age, or dual parenting instead of single, surprisingly didn't protect against the poor sleep. Turns out, all parents, no matter the circumstances, deal with sleep deprivation thanks to their bundle of joy.

"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 six years after birth of the first child," Dr. Lemola says. Just remember the saying, "the days (or in this case, nights) are long, but the years are short." You'll get your sleep back eventually! In other news: Research shows coffee sales are up among parents of young children. Just kidding, but we wouldn't be surprised if that were true!

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