Being a new parent can come with a number of new circumstances that you’d generally not encounter until the moment. While becoming a new parent is rewarding and a significant time for many people, researchers are now tracking the sleep of thousands of men and women as their family size increases and have recently discovered that sleep in new parents hits a new low about three months after the birth of their first child – with the effect strongest in women. In saying that, parents gradually saw an improvement in their sleep as their firstborn grew older, it seems their night-time rest was never quite the same again, according to the study.
“We didn’t expect to find that, but we believe that there are certainly many changes in the responsibilities you have,” said Dr Sakari Lemola, the co-author of the research from the University of Warwick. He also added that while children may stop crying during the night as they age, they may wake up, be sick or have nightmares, while the stress and worries that go with parenthood can also affect parents’ sleep and continue to do so as they grow older.
The study itself was originally published in the journal Sleep and looked at data collected from adults in Germany specifically who were surveyed in various face-to-face interviews that were carried out once a year between 2008 and 2015. Participants of the study were also asked to rate their sleep quality on a scale from 0 to 10, and were then quizzed on how many hours of sleep they got on a normal weekday and on a normal weekend day.
The researchers focused on responses from more than 2,500 women and almost 2,200 men who reported the birth of their first, second or third child during the study, with participants followed for up to six years. During it’s discovery, the research team found that women reported a decline in sleep satisfaction in the first year after the birth of a child, dropping 1.7 points on the scale on average for the first child, and just over one point for both the second and third child compared with before their first pregnancy.
According to the study, the mothers that cooperated also lost about 40 minutes of sleep a night in the year after a baby arrived compared with pre-pregnancy levels regardless of whether it was their first or a subsequent child. Deeper analysis of data also displayed that the first three months after the birth of a first child were particularly tough on mothers, showing that women lost just over an hour of sleep compared with before they became pregnant. While similar trends were seen for fathers, the effects were less pronounced when studied in relation to mothers. Even at three months after their first child’s birth, fathers only lost 13 minutes of sleep in comparison.
The research team also discovered that the impact of the first child’s birth lingered long-term for both parents in both positive and negative ways. Even once the impact of subsequent children was taken into account, women were still relatively sleep deprived, both in terms of quality and quantity, four to six years after their first child’s birth. Overall sleep satisfaction was rated just over one point lower on average, while sleep duration was about 25 minutes less. Seemingly, shortly after the birth of a second child, research showed that mothers’ sleep schedules recovered to levels they would’ve seen before their pregnancy, and almost bounced back altogether for the third child, which was reported to be due to sleep duration and quality being worse to start with due to the impact of the first child.