If you’ve ever rocked a crying baby at 3 A.M. or crawled slowly out of your toddler’s bedroom only to hear them call your name the second you touch the doorknob, this study may come as no surprise. Ask any parent and they can tell you stories about the ridiculous things they’ve had to do to get their little ones to sleep — but a new study shows these stories aren’t just tall tales. Parents actually spend about five hours a day trying to get their kids to sleep.
Sleep Junkie, an online sleep research organization, surveyed 500 parents from the US and 500 from the UK with children 18 months and younger to discover how they spend a typical day. Not surprisingly, a lot of their activities revolved around getting children to nap or settle in for bed — but it turns out the time spent on all those stroller walks and bedtime stories really adds up.
Parents averaged almost two hours a day feeding their little ones in preparation for snooze time, and an hour and 21 minutes walking. For parents with access to their own transportation, they reported spending over 40 minutes driving their baby or toddler around, hoping the motion would make them drowsy, which is a popular hack for sleep-resistant kids. Their other top three activities were reading, bathing and burping — all the activities we do to keep babies relaxed, happy and ready for bed. All this added up to an average of 5 hours and 25 minutes, every day.
A child not sleeping impacts parental sleep as well.
The researchers found that only 10 percent of the new parents surveyed were getting seven hours or more of sleep per night (compared to 68 percent getting a full night’s rest before their baby was born). Even after reducing sleep by about three hours a night in their child’s first year, those hours are invested right back into their little ones. Although this study found parents spending a few hours daily on self-care like socialization, other studies have found parents average as little as 32 minutes of time for themselves.
As parents we often forget to take a step back and see how we’re really spending our time, but discovering why we’re really tired can be eye-opening… or closing. Keeping in mind how sleep deprivation affects us is key. We’ve all been there, and sometimes it can be pretty funny — tired parents in the study reported everything from accidentally brushing their teeth with diaper cream to pouring milk on the floor instead of into the sink. But sleep deprivation is truly no laughing matter. The inattentiveness and impaired decision making that comes with exhaustion can negatively impact safety, mental and physical health, and overall well-being.
It’s important to take care of our babies, but it’s important for us to get enough sleep so that we can function, too. To help establish good nighttime sleep habits in babies (and in turn, for ourselves) the Mayo Clinic offers this advice:
- Establish a bedtime routine that includes calming activities like cuddling and reading, and stick with it every night.
- Don’t wait until your baby is asleep to transfer them to the crib, if possible. Otherwise, they get used to being held or rocked to sleep, and have difficulty drifting off without help.
- Don’t expect your baby to fall asleep immediately. They may fuss or cry, but try to offer soft verbal reassurance (or quiet “shushing”) and gentle pats on the back without picking them up, which will start the bedtime process all over.
- Try using a pacifier if you don’t already.
- For late-night feedings or diaper changes, keep the lights low and your voice quiet so your baby doesn’t get the idea that it’s time to wake up.
- Remember, babies are people too! Some tend to be night owls and others are early risers, and for now you might have an easier time following their lead than trying to get them to conform to your schedule.
In addition, there are a few common mistakes parents can avoid for smoother bedtimes. If you’re in the thick of parenting a young baby or toddler, remember this sleep deprivation is only temporary. Sooner or later you (and your child) will be sleeping through the night again.