The exhausted and beleaguered parents of a newborn are practically a cliche at this point. Many expecting mothers may receive jokes about how they “better sleep now because you won’t after the baby is born.” As it turns out, they may not get a good night’s sleep for longer than they think. A 2019 study discovered that parents of a newborn baby might not sleep well for up to six years.
Parent’s Won’t Get a Good Night’s Sleep Up to Six Years After Birth
The researchers analyzed the sleep patterns of over 4,600 German parents who had a baby between 2008–2015. The study was limited to self-reported data, and the parents documented how many hours they slept and ranked the quality from zero to ten.
To nobody’s surprise, mothers lost the most sleep within the first three months after having the baby. They lost about over an hour of sleep during those months and about 40 minutes of sleep for the rest of the first year. Mothers who breastfed tended to have the worst reports of sleep quality. Dads also lost sleep, but only about 15 minutes during those first three months. 
“It is possible that children’s increased fussing and crying during the first 3 months after birth, along with their dependence on frequent nocturnal feedings and other caretaking, are important reasons for parental sleep disturbance after childbirth,” the study authors note. “Apart from infant crying and frequent nursing, other potential proximate causes of poor postpartum sleep may involve physical pain following delivery and distress related to the demands of a new role.” 
But here’s the curious part. Both parents didn’t report getting back to their regular amount of sleep for up to six years after the birth of their child. And their sleep satisfaction also doesn’t recover during that time. It’s also noteworthy that the effects on sleep are more pronounced on first-time parents compared to more experienced ones.
“While having children is a major source of joy for most parents it is possible that increased demands and responsibilities associated with the role as a parent lead to shorter sleep and decreased sleep quality even up to 6 years after the birth of the first child,” author Sakari Lemola of the University of Warwick said in a statement. 
How Parents Could Get a Good Night’s Sleep
While parents should expect less sleep while caring for a baby, they shouldn’t resign themselves to complete deprivation. Believe it or not, but sleep is vital to properly care for the newborn. Lack of it could cause memory lapses, brain fog, irritability, disorganization, and other traits that are detrimental to baby care. So don’t feel selfish about taking a break.
Take a nap
Don’t struggle to be productive every time the baby naps or when a friend or family member helps out. Instead, take a nap yourself. Don’t underestimate the refreshing power of a 20–30 minute nap. It could help cut through the grogginess. However, avoid naps after two or three in the afternoon so you won’t disrupt your bedtime. 
Take turns feeding the baby at night
Don’t forget about the obvious solution in your partner. Working together could ensure more sleep for each of you. “At night, take turns with your partner getting up with the baby so that you can each get some uninterrupted sleep,” said certified pediatric sleep consultant Tracie Kesatie, MA.
“If you’re a nursing mom, once the nursing relationship is established, try to go to bed at the same time as the baby and see if your partner can feed the baby a bottle of pumped breast milk at the first wake-up so you can get a solid chunk of sleep during the first portion of the night.”
And single parents, there’s no shame in asking for help or accepting it from friends and family members. Everyone knows how difficult taking care of a baby can be.
Be aware of serious sleep deprivation signs
Sleep isn’t a luxury. Being deprived of it for too long could result in many negative effects. Be on the lookout for impaired concentration, mood swings, blurred visions, and forgetfulness. “The cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss have been associated with a wide range of damaging health consequences,” said Dr. David Brodner, a board-certified physician in sleep medicine, “including obesity, diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, anxiety, and depression.”
If you feel like if you’re heading toward serious deprivation, call in your support network and make sleep your top priority. Everyone in the family will benefit from you getting a good night’s sleep. 
Keep Reading: Parents Still Lose Sleep Over Their Adult Children
- “Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers.” Sleep Research Society. David Richter. April 2019
- “New Parents May Face Up to Six Years of Disrupted Sleep.” Smithsonian Magazine. Brigit Katz. February 27, 2019
- “Having a baby? You won’t get a good night’s sleep for 6 years, study says.” USA Today. Ashley May. February 26, 2019
- “Sleep Deprivation After Baby.” Parents. Denise Porretto. October 3, 2005
- “We Asked Sleep Consultants How to Survive the Newborn Days.” Healthline. Sarah Garone. September 26, 2019