Research Says New Parents Sleep Like Crap For Up To 6 Years After Baby's Born

by Cassandra Stone
Originally Published: 
Image via Lauren Bates/Getty Images

The exhaustion doesn’t end it seems, whether you have a newborn or a first-grader

If you are a parent, you are tired. That’s it. Those two things are mutually exclusive, no ifs, ands, or butts about it. We tell ourselves it’ll get easier once our children are older for all sorts of reasons — sleep being the biggest one. Well, it turns out that’s one big fat lie, according to new research.

According to a new study, parents face up to six years of disrupted, crappy sleep after the baby in question is born. Six. Years. I’m sure many seasoned parents are nodding along like, “yeah, tell me about it,” but those of us with toddlers (ahem) are probably downright horrified at this news. You mean we’ve got a handful more years of pure exhaustion?

The sleep study was conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick and shows that after the birth of the first child and up to six years after birth mothers and fathers sleep duration and sleep satisfaction do not fully recover to the levels before pregnancy.

Researchers studied the sleep habits of 4,659 parents who had a child between 2008 and 2015. During these years, parents also reported on their sleep in yearly interviews. In the first 3 months after birth mothers slept on average 1 hour less than before pregnancy while fathers sleep duration decreased by approximately 15 minutes.

Yes, that’s right, mothers get less sleep than fathers. Please, pick your slacken jaws up from the floor — I know it’s a radical conclusion that none of us were expecting.

[eyes roll out of head entirely]

“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,” says Dr. Sakari Lemola from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick.

But before you blame breastfeeding (if I had a nickel every time my husband said “If I could, I would”), these habits don’t magically improve once a child is weaned. The study shows even mothers of kids who are between the ages of four and six years old sleep about 20 minutes less per night than they did pre-pregnancy while fathers were at 15 minutes less.

Predictably, sleep effects were more pronounced in first-time parents compared with experienced parents. Interestingly, the first six months after birth showed the sleep effects were also somewhat stronger in breastfeeding compared with bottle-feeding mothers.

It’s also worth noting that higher household income and psychosocial factors such as dual vs. single parenting did not appear to alter or protect parents against these changes in sleep after childbirth.

Dr. Lemola concludes the study by keeping it real for all new parents out there: “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.”

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