Which parent should get the sleep in? Science has the answer

Is a sleep in more important for mum or dad?
Is a sleep in more important for mum or dad? Photo: Jekaterina Nikitina

As a doctor and a writer, I'm constantly reading new studies. So when I came across this study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, I took it upon myself to share the results with my husband.

You see, the study found that when women sleep in it may help protect them against diabetes.

Conversely, it found that when men sleep in, it might increase their risk of diabetes.

I thought the results were fascinating. But when I told my husband about them, he sounded suspicious.

"Is this your way of trying to get the sleep in?" he asked.

I was stunned, taken aback.

How dare he insinuate such a thing? How dare he be so ... well ... right?

He also said he didn't think he'd qualify for being at increased risk of diabetes due to 'sleeping in', because of how little he actually slept most nights.

"Getting six hours of sleep isn't called 'sleeping in'," he said. "It's called 'sleep'."


(I must admit he made a good point – the average amount of time the participants in the study slept was seven hours and 18 minutes, and sleeping longer than that was defined as 'sleeping in'. And no, these participants weren't being woken multiple times a night for child duties, either.)

Nevertheless, it made me think about The Sleep In (TSI).

When you become a parent, TSI becomes hot property.

A night out almost always ends in discussion about who is getting TSI the next day.

Many a morning is spent with couples lying in bed, nudging each other and murmuring about how it's their turn for it.

They may start listing arguments in their favour.

"I was up twice with the toddler overnight, I need the sleep in," one might say.

The other might counter with, "But I didn't get to sleep till 1am because I was still trying to put the baby down."

In other ploys to get TSI, some people play 'sleeping mummy' (or 'sleeping daddy'), employing as many fake-sleeping tools as possible (deep breathing, lying utterly still, etc).

In fact, long, complicated graphs have been drawn up between couples to highlight who had the last sleep in versus who has the most sleep ins in general.

Once you start analysing the length of TSI ("But I got up at 7.30am on my sleep in and you got up at 8.30am on yours!") the whole thing just gets out of hand.

I must admit, my husband excels at giving me TSI.

This partly relates to the fact that he often falls asleep on the couch sometime around 9pm, thus getting TSI in reverse. (Well, that's the way I figure it, anyway.)

Besides, when I'm the one awake at the crack of dawn, things seem to turn a little less-than-ideal by the time late afternoon rolls around.

Let's just say I don't deal with tiredness that well. I don't daintily yawn and politely profess my fatigue; rather, I grunt. And complain. Loudly. To anyone who will listen.

Besides, I've always been a firm believer that everyone has different sleep needs. I know I had a biology teacher at school who functioned incredibly well on four hours of sleep a night.

Personally, I think I need around 10 hours of sleep to function well. Or at least, that's the excuse I'm going with.

Considering I haven't had that much sleep in years, I sometimes daydream about how efficient I would be if only I slept enough.

But maybe now my daydreams will turn to reality - because from now on, I'll do my husband a favour and allow him to be the one to rise early, giving me TSI.

And it really is a favour to him. I'm not only reducing my chances of going bananas in the afternoon due to sheer exhaustion, I'm also helping lower his chances of developing a medical condition.

Now that's a win-win.