It was a predictable series of events. The University of Michigan put out a press release about a study on gender sleep patterns called “Wake up, Mom! Study shows gender differences in sleep interruptions.” By the time a few places posted it, people were highlighting the most glaring statistic: working moms are five times more likely to get up with toddlers in the middle of the night than working dads.
But read closer into the study and you’ll see that while gender differences are stark, most parents of young kids sleep OK. The University of Michigan used data from the American Time Use Survey, which records how Americans actually spend their time. As opposed to how we think we spend our time. This is a critical difference, because it turns out that even parents of young kids aren’t up with them in the middle of the night that much.
On any given day, 32 percent of working moms of children under age 1 reported a sleep disturbance related to the baby. Just 11 percent of working dads did. But consider that most babies don’t sleep through the night until 3 months or later. If you consider that probably 25% of moms of infants have kids under age 3 months, and much of the time mom is probably nursing the kid (which means dad isn’t particularly helpful when the child wakes up hungry), this means that post 3 months, mom will get to sleep through the night the vast majority of the time. Given how many horror stories I heard when I was pregnant the first time about children who never slept, I would have been quite excited to hear this statistic.
After age 1, things get even better. Some 10% of working moms of kids age 1-2 report a sleep disturbance related to the child (2% of fathers do, leading to headlines about the disparity). Only 3% of those with kids age 3-5 report a kid-related sleep interruption.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had several opportunities to cite a statistic from the American Time Use Survey: the average married mom who works full-time and has kids under age 6 sleeps more than 8 hours a night. People have trouble believing it, in part because of the perception of parents always waking up in the middle of the night. But past the first few months, this is a relatively rare occurrence.
I know it is for me. It may happen 10% of the time (I have a 14 month old, so this sounds about right). And yes, this past year has taken some adjustment for me on the sleep front. The kids, at least during the summer, got up a lot earlier than I wanted. But I learned that if they were going to be up at 6AM, I’d go to bed at 10PM. Now that it gets lighter later in the morning, they often sleep until 7AM, so I can stay up until 11PM. It’s not perfectly ideal, but I do sleep enough, and I’m happy to learn I’m not alone.