Not sleeping like a baby: new parents lose 50 nights' sleep in first year

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

In news that will come as no surprise to mums and dads, a study from the UK has found that new parents get less than five hours of sleep per night during their baby's first year.

Sleep deprivation shouldn't be underestimated. Experts say that lack of sleep can cause mood swings and irritability, poor concentration and memory, impaired judgement and concentration, and it can also cause physical issues such as aching muscles and headaches. In other words, sleep deprivation is the absolute pits.

Sleep (or lack thereof) can be a contentious issue among parents. Sometimes it can feel like a warped competition to see who is the most sleep deprived. The winner gets bragging rights and delirium.

On the other hand, women who have "good sleepers" can feel like they have to keep it a secret. I imagine it must be hard for them – although perhaps not quite as hard as chronic sleep deprivation.

I can vividly recall the relentless slog of parenting in the early years. Being woken by a hungry baby five minutes after falling asleep. Stumbling back into bed at 3am, only to be woken again before dawn. It can begin to feel a bit like torture. Sleepless nights might be par for the course. But that doesn't make them any easier to deal with.

For me, one the hardest things about prolonged sleep deprivation was not being taken seriously by other people in my life. On one occasion when I told a child-free friend that I was struggling with lack of sleep she rolled her eyes at me and said, "we're all tired, Cat."

It was a real blow. I knew that she didn't mean to trivialise my experience, but the comment shut down the conversation. Instead of feeling heard and supported I felt foolish and alone.

But the new study commissioned by sleep technology brand Simba, might help other new parents in the same situation. Researchers found that new parents only get four hours and 44 minutes of sleep per night during their baby's first year.

To put it another way, parents get less than 59 per cent of the recommend eight hours sleep per night – the equivalent of losing 50 nights of sleep. 

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 The same study also found that sleep deprivation puts pressure on relationships. More than two thirds of the parents surveyed said they got into arguments with their partner because of the baby's sleep habits.

More than 40 per cent admitted that they have completely forgotten what they were saying mid sentence. Sleep deprivation led to 11 per cent of parents hallucinating. Meanwhile, eight per cent of sleep-deprived parents have forgotten the name of their baby.

Other confessions include: falling asleep standing up, walking to the store without any shoes and putting things in the wrong place (kettle in fridge, milk in oven). We've all been there.

Of course, none of this is news to those of us who've been there. But it might be a small comfort that at least you're not alone.