MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Sakari Lemola
Department of Psychology
University of Warwick
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Sufficient sleep of good quality is important for physical and mental health. Therefore, we are studying factors in people’s lives that may affect their sleep.
In the present study we examined in particular how the birth of a child affects parents’ sleep. In detail, we used data on sleep of more than 4,600 parents in Germany who had a child between 2008 and 2015. During these years parents reported on their sleep in yearly interviews. We found that the birth of a child had quite drastic short-term effects on new mothers’ sleep, particularly during the first three months after birth. This is not a new finding; previous studies reported similar effects. What is new in the current study is that we compared sleep before pregnancy with sleep until up to 6 years after birth.
We were surprised to see that sleep duration and sleep satisfaction were still decreased up to six years after birth. Six years after birth mothers and father still slept around 15-20 minutes less.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Having children is associated with a drastic short term decrease in sleep duration and sleep satisfaction particularly in mothers. In the long-term, till up to 6 years after birth, mothers and fathers still sleep about 15-20 minutes less than before pregnancy. While this sounds like bad news, on the positive side we can state that this long-term decrease in sleep duration is not very strong – a decrease in sleep duration of less than 30 minutes is a rather modest change and we would not expect major health consequences.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Future research may address how parents cope with the situation. Some parents are able to get more sleep and better sleep quality than others. Partly this may depend on children’s temperament. However, there may also be parents who have better strategies to get the sleep they need. Some parents seem to manage quite well to coordinate their naps with their children’s sleep.
Another important point to examine in future studies is the role of sleep hygiene. To relax and getting back to sleep is easier when certain sleep hygiene rules are followed, such as avoiding screen use in the middle of the night. The blue light of screens has alerting effects; in the middle of the night it is better to avoid them.
Richter, D., Krämer, M.D., Tang, N.K.Y., Montgomery-Downs, H.E., & Lemola, S. Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers. Sleep, 2019 DOI: 10.1093/sleep/zsz015/5289255
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