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Sleep debt: New parents lose two months of sleep in a baby's first year

For most people, welcoming a new baby into the world brings an abundance of joy. However, recent research highlights an often overlooked aspect of new parenthood: a significant sleep debt.

A new study from experts at Silentnight reveals that during the first year of their child’s life, parents miss out on the equivalent of over two months of sleep. 

Hundreds of sleep interruptions 

On average, new parents lose about four and a half hours of sleep every night. This sleep debt amounts to over 31 hours per week or an astonishing 68 days before the child’s first birthday.

Overall, the researchers found that new parents tend to their babies an average of 975 times at night during the first year. This equates to almost three night-time interruptions every night. Younger parents, especially those under 25, wake up almost four times during the night.

Mothers have the greatest sleep debt

The study also revealed that sleep deprivation isn’t distributed equally among both parents. The study showed that mothers bear the brunt of the sleeplessness, with an average loss of five hours each night compared to fathers, who typically miss three and a half hours. 

Why such a disparity between each parent? One significant factor is an imbalance in parental leave from work. 

“This is often down to men getting less leave from work post birth, meaning their bodies maintain a more regular sleep routine than mums, who get extended leave of up to 12 months,” the study reports. 

Furthermore, breastfeeding is primarily the responsibility of mothers, leading to increased night-time duties for them.

Sleep quality

However, it’s not just about the quantity of interruptions, but the quality of sleep that follows. Even after these late-night baby care duties, not all parents find it easy to drift back to sleep. 

Among fathers, 70 percent said they managed to get a good night’s rest after being woken up, while this was only the case for 44 percent of mothers.

Common reasons 

The survey from Silentnight, which included 500 parents of children under five, sought to uncover the most common reasons for these sleep interruptions. 

The results showed that over half of late-night wake-ups were due to the baby being hungry or thirsty. This was followed by teething, which accounted for 41 percent of the sleep interruptions.

Importance of self-care 

“Taking care of a baby or toddler can have a significant impact on the quality of sleep mums and dads get, especially in those first few months after birth,” said Hannah Shore, a sleep expert at Silentnight.

Shore emphasized the importance of self-care during this challenging phase of life. 

“All parents accept that their sleep quality and quantity will be reduced after becoming a new parent. However, if you’re feeling low, bad tempered and unable to cope, you need to find a way of getting more sleep – or at least more rest. Remember, taking care of yourself is essential for effectively caring for your newborn.”

According to Shore, prioritizing rest and seeking assistance where it’s needed are all crucially important during this demanding time.

“And remember, where possible, ask for additional help from those around you,” she said. “Having a child is not easy, and it’s OK to ask for a hand every now and then.”

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