Sleep study shows new moms are dangerously exhausted for months

BY Travis Daub  August 1, 2014 at 2:12 PM EST
Should new moms get more time off to catch up on sleep before going back to work? Photo by Getty Images

Should new moms get more time off to catch up on sleep before going back to work? Photo by Getty Images

Four months isn’t enough time for new moms to recover from the exhaustion of having a kid, a new study published in PLOSone reports.

New parents know the feeling: a shell-shocked, sleep-deprived, zombie-like state that manifests itself after too many nights of interrupted REM cycles. Months into a new parenting adventure, even after an infant is beginning to sleep more regularly, data shows moms are often still sleep-deprived.

The Australian study tracked the sleep quality of 33 mothers through their first months taking care of new infants. The mothers registered medically-significant levels of sleepiness, even after 18 weeks.

But how does that lack of sleep affect the rest of the world? “Sleep disruption strongly influences daytime function, with sleepiness recognized as a risk-factor for people performing critical and dangerous tasks,” said Dr. Ashleigh Filtness, who carried out the study at the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety.

“Policy makers developing regulations for parental leave entitlements should take into consideration the high prevalence of excessive daytime sleepiness experienced by new mothers, ensuring enough opportunity for daytime sleepiness to diminish to a manageable level prior to reengagement in the workforce.”

For an American audience, the study might raise eyebrows. According to their research, Australian newborn moms tended to get about seven hours and 20 minutes of sleep at the infant’s six-week mark. Compare that to the average American worker who clocks in with only six hours and 53 minutes per night. Though new parents experience more frequent interruptions to their sleep than people without small children, resulting in lower overall sleep quality.

The researchers behind the study plan to develop a program to raise awareness among pregnant women about the dangers of sleeplessness for freshly-minted parents.

In our Parenting Now series, we explored how parents must navigate the “cage match” of modern parenting, how to raise healthy girls in a princess-dominated culture, and the distinct challenges of raising boys.