So long sleep! Parents face six years of disrupted sleep after having a baby

New research says parents will have six years of sleepless nights [Photo: Getty]
New research says parents will have six years of sleepless nights [Photo: Getty]

“You’re never going to sleep again,” they say when you’re about to have a baby. But turns out you will, it will just take six years.

That’s right, new research has revealed that having a child will disrupt your sleep for at least six years.

A study, tracking almost 5,000 parents found that even when children had reached school age, mums and dads were still suffering significantly worse sleep than before they entered parenthood.

Unsurprisingly, sleep satisfaction and duration was at its worst in the first three months after birth, the study, by the University of Warwick and published in the journal Sleep, found.

There’s a gender difference in the amount of sleep lost too, with mums losing out on an hour’s sleep a night in the first three months after giving birth, while dads lost 13 minutes.

Over the first four to six years with their first child, women missed out on 41 minutes of sleep, while men sacrificed just 14 minutes a night.

That gap reduced over time with mothers sleeping 20 minutes less after six years, while fathers were still deprived of 15 minutes a night.

Researchers said the increased responsibilities of parenthood contributed to sleepless nights, long after the demands of night feeding and nappy changing had ended.

Before having children, when you got to sleep through the night and lie in at weekends, men and women clocked up just over seven hours’ sleep a night, on average, the study found.

Lead researcher Dr Sakari Lemola, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, said: “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.”

The news comes as further research revealing the UK’s parents are on the verge of a sleep crisis, which is having a real effect on UK families by impacting on everything from their mental health to their relationships.

According to a study from Netmums a whopping 83% of parents have had sleep issues with at least one child, over half (55%) of parents said they are unhappy with the amount of sleep they get each night and 56% confessed their child/children wake at least once or multiple times during the night.

But lack of sleep can have very real effects on emotional and physical wellbeing – with three quarters of those parents polled agreeing that sleep deprivation impacts on their mental health.

“I am not at all surprised by the findings of the University of Warwick survey,” Lucy Shrimpton, The Sleep Nanny and expert at The Baby Show tells Yahoo UK.

“Sleep deprivation is affecting more and more families in this time of increased technology and more parents working,” she continued. “One of the biggest delusions is that children will just start sleeping soundly when they are ready, but it’s not true.”

Lucy says that being able to settle themselves to sleep is a learned skill for children.

“Some little ones learn it easily where parents don’t even notice that they’re teaching them the skill while others have a really hard time because the parental approach and child temperament are not in alignment,” she says.

And according to Lucy one in four children will have a behavioural insomnia. “This is difficulty with sleep that is non-medical related,” she explains. “It is so common and because the solution will vary greatly from family to family, people are left confused and sleep deprived for years!”

So long sleep! [Photo: Getty]
So long sleep! [Photo: Getty]

So what can parents do to claw back some of the lost sleep?

Focus on quality rather than quality

Silentnight‘s sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan has warned that parents place too much emphasis on the amount of time they’re supposed to sleep.

“It’s important that we focus on achieving quality, deep sleep, rather than a quota of hours,” she says. “As a new parent, it’s vital to make the most of any free time you have restfully and to take regular naps of no more than 15 mins, when you can, in order to re-energise.”

When sleep deprived, delegate

When you’ve had a bad night, don’t be a perfectionist and try to do everything yourself. “Allow your other half and family to help out as much as possible,” Dr Nerina says. “It’s also important not to over rely on stimulants as these will affect your sleep in the long run.”

Be prepared

When you’ve got a newborn it pays to be middle-of-the-night prepped. “Try to have everything on hand for a quick feed or nappy change and if you have to put a light on, use a low-level bedside lamp,” suggests Dr Nerina. “The less time you are exposed to light, the easier it will be to get back to sleep again.”

Go early hours tech-free

“Don’t be tempted to check your phone, as the blue light from screens tricks your brain into thinking it’s more awake than it is, making it more difficult to get back to sleep,” warns Dr Nerina.

Ditch the clock

Dr Nerina recommends not checking the time if you are up in the middle of the night. “If you do this, you are more likely to start worrying about how little sleep you might get,” she says.

If things still don’t improve, get help

“Most sleep challenges come from a combination of over-tiredness and an inability to settle to sleep or back to sleep,” says Lucy. “In a huge number of cases, parents cannot see this as a child will appear to drop off to sleep easily or appear not to want more sleep – It’s deceptive and counter intuitive which is why expert help is so valuable.”

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