Parenthood and Sleep – Do They Co-Exist?

Dr. Craig Hudson, MD | August 22, 2016

It’s a classic struggle or a rite of passage that all new parents go through. Sleep deprivation is one of the most common issues parents face when a child is born, and in some cases this insomnia can develop into a chronic problem. According to a poll conducted by researchers at the National Sleep Foundation, around 74 percent of stay-at-home mothers are insomniacs.

But new moms are not the only ones affected. A study compared the sleep quality of 72 couples in the month before birth and the month after. The results showed on average that new mothers lost 41 minutes of sleep, 30 of which they gained back through daytime napping. The fathers on the other hand lost 18 minutes, but did not gain any minutes through napping, so overall they lost more sleep. Regardless of exactly how much sleep is lost in total, it’s clear: losing sleep is extremely probable, if not a certainty.

Making Sleep a Priority

We often treat this issue lightly—as an unavoidable part of child rearing. In reality, the sleep deprivation parents experience is no less dangerous than the sleeplessness experienced by anyone else. It can lead to daytime drowsiness, difficulty with concentration, increased stress levels and irritability. These symptoms seem tolerable at first until they impact a parent’s ability to care for their child or cause them to fall asleep while driving.

Prioritizing sleep should be a goal as soon as you start noticing symptoms of insomnia reoccurring. Exploring and researching strategies early on, perhaps even during pregnancy, can reduce the chances of your parenthood-related insomnia becoming a chronic issue.

So, How Do You Get Your 8 Hours of Sleep as Parents?

Napping: sleep, whenever you can, is priority number one. While making a habit of afternoon napping is discouraged, if you have no other options, know that squeezing in a nap or two can vastly improve your concentration and daytime drowsiness. 

Rely on Your Support System: This tip is particularly important for new parents. When you are feeling run down and at your mental and physical limits (or even before things get that dire), call in your support network. Have family and friends step in to watch the kid(s) for a while, so you can catch up on some relaxation and sleep.

Make Sure You and Your Kids Stick to a Bedtime: Just like you would for your kids, set a firm bedtime for yourself and do not waver from it. This little bit of self-care will go a long way towards re-establishing a nightly routine.

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