How Sleep Deprivation in New Parents is Worse Than we Thought

How parents sleeping habits suffer for 6 years after baby arrives - dealing with sleep deprivation as new mom or parent

How much sleep did you get last night? A full 8 hours slumber? If not you’re not alone!

You may have been up several times with your baby or little kids (or both). Once you become parents sleeping turns into a constant battle. And the sleep deprivation you face is on another level. 

Are all new parents sleep deprived?

Yes, all new parents go through a period where they’re sleep deprived. Your new baby will need to feed at least every 3 hours. This alone means you’re up all hours of the night after baby arrives.

How parents sleeping habits suffer for 6 years after baby arrives - dealing with sleep deprivation as new mom or parent

How much sleep do new parents get?

One of the first things you expect as a new parent is that you won’t get much sleep. But did you know exactly how much sleep you were missing out on? 

A recent study found that parents were even more sleep deprived than we thought. After reading the research, it’s a wonder we’re still standing.

A study by Owlet Baby Care found that half of new parents get a paltry 1 to 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep in the first six months with baby. Only 5% of parents of babies aged 0-6 months old, got the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night.

That’s a serious amount of sleep we’re missing out on. Other research makes similarly bleak reading.

A recent study by sleep technology brand Simba revealed that after the birth of their baby, new parents get only 4 hours and 44 minutes of shut eye. That means we miss out on the equivalent of 50 nights’ sleep in the first year alone.

No wonder we feel like zombies (or mombies?)

When is sleep deprivation for new parents at its worst?

A recent study of about 4,000 men and women found that sleep duration and satisfaction declined slowly after birth. Sleep deprivation was found to be at its worst during the first 3 months after childbirth. Moms were more strongly affected by the lack of sleep than dads.

Authors of another study which looked into parents’ sleep after a baby, noted that it wasn’t just the nightly feeds that kept new parents awake:

It is possible that children’s increased fussing and crying during the first 3 months after birth, along with their dependence on frequent nocturnal feedings and other care-taking, are important reasons for parental sleep disturbance after childbirth.

As your baby grows the lack of sleep should improve and become more manageable. When they get a bit bigger you can usually find a few pockets of time to catch up on rest. 

And when your baby starts sleeping for longer at night, it all gets easier.

How long does sleep deprivation last?

Every new parent expects a loss of shut eye in the first year. It’s part and parcel of new parenthood. However research has shown that we lose out on sleep for a lot longer than that. Broken sleep can in fact go on for years, not months.

A study featured in the Journal Sleep, found that parental yawns can go on for as long as six years.

The sleep patterns of over 2,500 women and 2,200 men were followed from the birth of their first child and for the next six years.

The first 3 months after birth were particularly gruelling. More so for mums than dads, who got a bit more shut eye. 

One of the most shocking findings was that parents’ sleep did not fully recover until 6 years after the birth of their first child. Both in quality and quantity.

Study author Sakari Lemola said:

We were surprised to see that sleep duration and sleep satisfaction were still decreased six years after birth.

Seasoned parents may be thinking ‘Six years? We haven’t had a proper night’s sleep for much longer’. 

She went onto explain why this can happen:

Even if children don’t wake up the parents directly, it is possible that parents have more things to worry about, to plan and to organize compared to before the first child, which may curtail their sleep.

Putting the kettle back in the fridge…

Sleep deprivation can play with your physical and mental functions. Being awake for more than 19 hours can affect your brain in the same way as being drunk. 

A survey conducted by Owlet, makers of the Owlet Smart Sock for babies, revealed some shocking facts about the habits of sleep deprived parents.  

Much of it involved parents nodding off at inappropriate times. They found that around: 


30% of new dads said they fell asleep at work

21% of parents confessed to falling asleep in parked cars while their babies were snoozing.

12% have fallen asleep at the kitchen table

11% drifted off in the shower (which is a bit dangerous!).

Fans of Australian site Belly Belly, also revealed the weird and wonderful things that a lack of sleep led them to do:

I sat down to peeing with my underwear still on.

I tried to attach the dog lead to my son while trying to take him to school.

I got in the shower, water running…. with clothes and glasses still on.

I put my wallet in the freezer and the frozen peas in my handbag.

I put hand soap on my toothbrush instead of toothpaste.

Source: Belly Belly

Sleep does matter though

The stories we have to tell about our sleep deprived antics are hilarious. But on the flip side, in the long term a lack of sleep – especially at the level that parents face – has some quite significant effects.

What does a lack of sleep cause?

Long term sleep deprivation can cause real problems with your physical and mental health. It’s linked to an number of health conditions, from weight gain to high blood pressure.

Our bodies need sleep to restore and heal itself. Without it, and especially in the long term, it can mean that our minds and bodies aren’t functioning as well. According to Healthline sleep deprivation can affect all of our body’s systems. It can cause issues like:

  • memory and concentration problems
  • lower immunity
  • mood swings
  • decreased balance
  • higher risk of accidents

A lack of sleep can also affect us psychologically.

Talking to ITV News, Louise Gonclaves, a Children’s Sleep Practitioner, said:

I definitely see a lot of parents at the end of their tether. Parents… may not be even enjoying parenthood as much as they thought they would feel that they should be doing.

It is tough when you are not sleeping. There is evidence to show how it affects our mood and our ability to cope. That, coupled with the increase of stress, possibly feeling a little isolated, having family who live away from you, the pressure we put on ourselves to be a ‘perfect’ parent…is a recipe for reaching the end of your tether. Louise Goncalves

This too will pass

Sleep deprivation is gruelling but it won’t last forever. And it’s important to remember that.

Hayley Bolton and Renee Learner, sleep experts from Forty Winks Sleep Consultancy, say:

As a first-time parent, it is important to remember everything is a phase, good and bad, but it will eventually pass.

How do you survive a lack of sleep with a newborn?

Sleep deprivation is tough. Hold onto the fact that the gruelling nights do come to an end. Eventually.

Try to grab sleep when you can, whether it’s during baby’s nap or when a trusted family member can help with the baby for a few hours.

In the meantime to help with those tired days try out our 20 tricks to cope with sleep deprivation as a new parent.

Baby sleep book and online course

If your baby is older and they’re still waking up several times in the night you may be considering a baby sleep book or sleep training course.

One that we highly recommend is Dana Obleman’s Sleep Solutions Program.

You can start with a Free Sleep Assessment that’s sent to you based on your answering 6 main questions:

Sleep Sense: Free Sleep Assessment

We have also written a detailed breakdown and review of the book, the course and its contents here.

Dana Obleman sleep sense program review - baby sleep training courses - baby sleep consultant course

Disclosure: this article may contain affiliate links.

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How parents sleeping habits suffer for 6 years after baby arrives - dealing with sleep deprivation as new mom or parent

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