For New Parents, Uninterrupted Sleep Has a Gender Bias

12/17/2010 09:21 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It is 3 a.m. and you have a one-year-old. And we all know what is going on: it's feeding time, it's changing time, or it is simply time to say, "Hi everyone! I am up and excited to be here!" But you have a presentation at work the next day, carpool in the morning, and this is night number 10 in a row, so what does a sleep-deprived parent do?

A new study has told us exactly what may be happening, and no big surprises here: Mom gets up more than Dad! A University of Michigan researcher (having reviewed 20,000 working parents from 2003 to 2007) has given us the "first known nationally representative data documenting substantial gender differences in getting up at night -- mainly for babies and small children."

Not only do women get up more than men (working women are 2.5 times more likely to get up than working dads: 32 percent of women compared to 11 percent of men), but:

  • Women stay up for an average of 44 minutes, compared to 30 minutes for men

  • The difference is maintained even with many other variables taken into account, including employment status, income and education level
  • And sole breadwinner moms seem to have it even worse: 28 percent of sole provider working moms have interrupted sleep, compared to only 4 percent of sole provider working dads!
  • The good news is that according to this study, this difference and the actual interruptions decline with the age of the child. As the child gets older (ages three to five) the difference is less, just 3 percent for working moms and 1 percent for working dads.

    My suggestion for any parents with a newborn:

    1. Consult with your pediatrician to make sure that there is no emergent physical reason for these awakenings (e.g., Colic or reflux)

  • Consider an "on-call" rotation similar to other professions, for example:
  •                          a.  Mom takes Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights
                             b.  Dad takes Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights
                             c.  And you rotate every other Sunday
  • Look at your internal biological clock and see what may work better:
  •                          a.   Is one parent a night owl and the other an early to bed, early to rise person?
                             b.  Split the night in half and each take a shift!

    And a special note to all the moms who have partners who help out in the middle of the night (but you probably already know this): He's a keeper!

    Sweet dreams,

    Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.
    The Sleep Doctor™