‘Sleep deprivation effects last for up to six years after birth’

A new study finds a big impact on new mothers’ sleep patterns after childbirth and a pattern of sustained sleep deprivation for both parents in the first six years.

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The birth of a child has drastic short-term effects on new mothers’ sleep and the impact of sleep deprivation is felt for up to six years after birth for both parents, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Warwick collaborated with the German Institute for Economic Research and the West Virginia University to study sleep in 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 three months after birth mothers slept on average one hour less than before pregnancy while fathers sleep duration decreased by approximately 15 minutes.

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

However, when the children were 4-6 years old sleep duration was still about 20 minutes shorter in mothers and 15 minutes shorter in fathers compared to their sleep duration before pregnancy. A similar time course was also observed for their satisfaction with sleep.

Sleep effects were more pronounced in first-time parents compared with experienced parents. In the first half a year after birth the sleep effects were also somewhat stronger in breastfeeding compared with bottle-feeding mothers, say the researchers.

Higher household income and psychosocial factors such as dual vs. single parenting did not appear to protect against these changes in sleep after childbirth.

Dr Sakari Lemola, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, said: “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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