Every parent knows that a good night's sleep is a distant memory after a newborn baby joins the family. A new study, however, suggests that the effects of sleep deprivation can linger for up to six years. The good news: it gets easier with the second baby.
British researchers at the University of Warwick analyzed data from a German survey which followed new parents between 2008 and 2015. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with each participant every year, during which they were asked to rate the quality of their sleep on a scale from 0 to 10 and to report how many hours of sleep they got on a normal weekday and weekend.
The researchers collected responses from more than 2,500 men and 2,200 men, who had up to three children during the six-year follow-up.
According to the results, mothers who gave birth to their first baby experienced a 1.7 point drop in the quality of their sleep, but only one point for the second and third child (compared with the pre-pregnancy baseline). Regardless of whether they had their first or subsequent baby, mothers lost 40 minutes of sleep a night on average in the baby's first year.
Not surprisingly, the first three months after birth were the most grueling, with women losing just over an hour of sleep compared to the baseline.
Fathers also experienced sleep deprivation, however, the effects were far less pronounced. Even at the peak of sleep deprivation, during a baby's first three months, fathers lost only 13 minutes of sleep on average.
The study's most interesting conclusion was that the effects of sleep deprivation lingered for both parents four to six years after the first child was born. Sleep satisfaction was rated one point lower and sleep duration was about 25 minutes less compared to before the first pregnancy.
"Following the sharp decline in sleep satisfaction and duration in the first months postpartum, neither mothers’ nor fathers’ sleep fully recovers to prepregnancy levels up to 6 years after the birth of their first child," the authors reported in the journal Sleep.
After giving birth to their second or third child, mothers' sleep recovered to levels before that pregnancy by the end of the followup. However, sleep quality and duration was already worse to start with due to the effects of the first pregnancy. So, although it gets relatively easier to deal with poor sleep with the second or third child, this is mostly because the baseline is lower.
Researchers warn new parents that they shouldn't treat sleep deprivation lightly. They recommend that parents shouldn't worry too much about non-essential chores around the house. When help is offered from friends and family, parents shouldn't be afraid to accept it. Learning to coordinate one's naps with the baby's sleeping patterns can also quickly become an essential skill if mastered.