Earlier this year, a “groundbreaking” study enjoyed a good bit of popularity on social media and other corners of the internet, in part because it confirmed what so many of us already knew: moms are more sleep deprived than dads.
It was tempting to poke fun at the findings, which noted that while the presence of children in the home did nothing to alter the sleep patterns of men, over half of the women in the pool of 5,805 total participants reported getting insufficient sleep. Insufficient sleep, in this case, is generally considered to be less than the optimal 6-9 hours of sleep a night. But when you consider that as a whole, America is already sleep-deprived and suffering the detrimental health impacts of that, the way that moms — particularly new moms — are disproportionately affected is really no laughing matter. The study, authored by Georgia Southern University’s Dr. Kelly Sullivan — and other studies like it — paint a less than peaceful nightly picture for moms:
- Maternal sleep problems begin in pregnancy: 78% of women report disrupted or insufficient sleep before they even give birth, thanks to physical discomfort and hormonal changes.
- When the baby is born, new moms are more likely to get less sleep than dads will. They’ll lose about 41 minutes to 1.5 hours cumulatively as opposed to the 18 minutes their male counterparts lose. And that sleep is already fragmented over the course of the night, throwing the sleep-wake cycle out of whack and making restorative sleep practically impossible.
- Single moms have it the hardest, with 40% getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night for years as opposed to those first few postpartum months.
This all matters because sleep deficiency is so much more serious than the “mombie” trope of bedraggled, foggy new moms who pour breast milk into their coffee and coffee into a bottle. Prolonged lack of sleep doesn’t just lead to reduced cognition in the short term and heart problems in the long term. It can put moms at serious risk for depression and is tied to reduced marital satisfaction, and a study in PLOSone found postpartum sleep deprivation as far out as 4 months to be “medically significant,” putting it on par with shift work disorder and sleep apnea. And just as chronically fatigued individuals risk accidents during daytime tasks, so too do new mothers.
But what can we do about it? How can a mom get more sleep? Some sleep loss is inevitable, but the rest can be mitigated. Take a look at the next page to find out.