Dr. Helen

New Dads Are the Ones Missing the Most Sleep

So says a new book entitled The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child’s First Four Years. According to an excerpt from the book:

If you haven’t experienced it, no simple description will capture the feeling of deep, dizzying fatigue that can accompany the first few weeks with a newborn.

By the third child, Emily was wishing for an infant boarding school that could keep her son for those first few weeks of constant night waking and return him in a semiregulated state at about eight weeks. Well, not really, but the thought might have crossed her admittedly addled brain at 3 a.m. on several successive nights.

You might think that mothers, being the ones with the breast milk, have it the worst. But science seems to indicate otherwise.

For example, one 2013 study of 21 mother-father pairs enjoying their first infant experience found that fathers actually got less sleep than the mothers and experienced more confirmed sleepiness, as measured using wrist trackers. The study authors also found that even though the mothers got more sleep, their sleep was disturbed more often, which makes sense given their role in feeding…

The allure of the studies that include fathers is that much of the earlier research focused only on mothers and their level of fatigue. But a family with a newborn typically involves a parental partnership of some sort, and the role of the nonbirthing partner can be critical. And the sleep deprivation and fatigue of the nonbirthing partner go unrecognized by their birthing partner. A 2011 study of 21 new parent pairs suggests as much, and that this lack of recognition of sleep-deprivation problems goes both ways. Mothers overestimated how well fathers slept (the study looked only at mother–father parenting pairs), and fathers overestimated mothers’ disturbed mood.

Mothers overestimate a lot about fathers and men in general but thus far, most of the focus is on how to help mothers. Fathers are left to fend for themselves and/or are told they aren’t doing enough despite the fact that surveys found men to get less sleep and to work longer hours once they have a newborn.

It’s no wonder men are reluctant to become fathers as their role is downplayed despite its importance.