The long six years

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

For parents, sleep disruption and deprivation doesn't last forever - only six or so years, writes Ian Munro.

If you were doing something that caused you to lose, on average, 40 minutes sleep a night for a year and found out that you'd never quite catch up on it for six years, you'd probably change the activity involved.

 

The trouble is, in this case, you can't. It's too late by then.

Shortly after finishing writing last week's column about babies and sleep I came across some new research from the University of Warwick about parents and babies and sleep.

The researchers analysed data collected from several thousand mothers and fathers over a lengthy period of time as they grew their families and as their families grew.

Their study found that mothers lost, on average, 40 minutes of sleep a night in the first year of becoming a parent and this didn't lessen with subsequent children.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
While sleep deprivation reached its highest point at three months after birth (over an hour of sleep a night for that period), recovery took up to six years. Babies do stop crying and do stop night feeds but instead, as they grow, they wake up, have nightmares and get sick. And there's no snooze button on a toddler who's wide awake at 6am.

Add to that the stress and worries of being a parent and I'm probably telling you something that, as parents, you instinctively know already.

The impact on fathers wasn't as great. On average, they had only lost 13 minutes of sleep by the time three months had elapsed. Mothers, you're probably not greatly surprised by that either.

Interestingly, the researchers noted that, although sleep levels after subsequent births did seem to return to those achieved after the first birth after about a year, the impact of that first birth was the one that was never fully recovered from for four to six years.

Cathy Finlay, an antenatal teacher with the National Childbirth Trust, commenting on the study, is reported as saying that, while sleep deprivation can be draining in all respects, there are ways to limit its impact.

She recommends:

• trying not to worry about non-essential jobs around the house.

• accepting help from family and friends when it's offered.

• co-ordinating your own naps with those of your youngsters.

• having one parent doing evening caring while the other rests ahead of the night shift.

While many who've "been there and done that" will quickly let you know that starting a family means you'll never have a decent night's sleep ever again, the sleep disruption and deprivation doesn't last forever - only six or so years.


 

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