Study shows gender sleep gap

Dads with pre-school children have more and better quality sleep than mums, with dads of two children sleeping on average around two and a half hours a week more than their partners, according to an Australian study.

The study, published in Family Matters, the journal of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, found parents of young children slept significantly less than those without children, with parents of children under one sleeping least. Mums of under ones sleep around three hours a week less than dads. The more children a couple have the wider the sleep gap between mums and dads is, with mums of three children sleeping just under four hours less a week than dads.

The researchers says their finding are consistent with the idea that parenthood brings about a “fourth shift” for women as they take primary responsibility of overnight care for children.

The reasons put forward for parents’ lack of sleep range from early waking of children, staying up late to do work once the kids are in bed, co-sleeping resulting in more disrupted sleep and tending to children’s overnight needs such as taking them to the toilet, dealing with nightmares and sickness.

The report says that on average, mothers and fathers of young children in Australia are not getting the minimum seven hours a night sleep that is recommended. It says: “The situation is particularly alarming for mothers and fathers of two or three young children, who incur a weekly sleep debt of two to seven hours. Fathers and mothers of young children in Australia only begin to meet the National Sleep Foundation sleep quantity recommendations after their youngest child turns two and three years old, respectively.”

The report says initiatives such as the provision of a generous and flexible paid parental leave scheme, flexi-time and reduced work hours could help. The researchers add: “It is important that any such policy extends to fathers as well as mothers, both because they suffer from sleep debt themselves and because their presence in the home could help mothers find the time to sleep.”

They also suggest the provision of sleep pods at workplaces “to enable short, restorative naps”. They also call for information campaigns about the benefits of sleep and the need for fathers to support mothers’ sleep.

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