Sleepless nights for modern mothers

Last updated at 11:49 02 June 2005

Working mothers feel stressed out by a lack of sleep and find it difficult to function, according to new research.

New mothers get less sleep than they did 30 years ago - three hours compared to the five their own mothers had in the 1970s.

The lack of sleep affects their ability to function, work, and communicate with their partner, the study found.

Working mothers in particular said they felt stressed, with 78 per cent saying the lack of sleep affected their working ability.

Most new mothers (84 per cent) said they did most of the housework, even if they worked full-time.

And almost three quarters (69 per cent) of all new mothers said they resented their partner for not pulling his weight more in the home.

The research found that 68 per cent of mothers missed their babies while they were at work and 70 per cent felt guilty about being away from their baby.

Only 22 per cent thought they had the work-life balance right.

The study of 2,000 new mothers found 37 per cent thought a lack of sleep left them depressed or despairing.

Over a quarter (27 per cent) said they felt unable to function properly, 27 per cent were irritable with their baby and 8 per cent admitted shouting at their baby.

Spoilt sex life

Almost a quarter (22 per cent) said the lack of sleep made their partner shout at them and over half (56 per cent) thought baby had spoilt their sex life.

Two-fifths of new mothers (41 per cent) said the baby had put their relationship under strain and 35 per cent thought it had caused rows.

Almost half (45 per cent) said they were desperate for sleep while 65 per cent described themselves as bad tempered.

Of new dads, 65 per cent said their work was affected by a lack of sleep while 53 per cent thought their boss was not understanding.

The study also found that modern babies wake up three times a night and take an average of 33 minutes to settle each time.

This compared to babies waking an average of two times a night in the 1960s and 1970s and taking just 20 minutes to settle.

The study revealed it took modern mothers an average of 56 minutes to get baby to sleep in the evening - double the 28 minutes it took their own mothers.

Modern mothers were also more likely to breast or bottle feed their baby to sleep (51 per cent) or cuddle them to sleep (41 per cent), while one in 10 lets baby drift off in front of the TV.

Mothers in the 1960s and 1970s were more likely to put their baby in the cot (56 per cent), a comparative study of 2,000 women aged 55 to 65 found.

The study, for Mother & Baby Magazine, coincides with Big Sleep Week in conjunction with Pampers.

Elena Dalrymple, editor of Mother & Baby Magazine, said: "Today's working parents are so time poor, their anxiety to get baby to bed so they can have a bit of an evening actually prevents baby from falling asleep.

"Babies latch on to their parents' anxiety and stay awake instead. Back in the 60s and 70s most mums didn't work and therefore weren't so anxious about getting baby to bed.

"And dad didn't have to worry because looking after the baby was mum's full-time job. Life is much harder for today's parents."

Sleep starvation

She said sleep starvation was "a huge problem for today's parents" who put themselves under pressure to be perfect.

"The first baby a woman holds nowadays is usually her own and new parents no longer have 24-hour support from their extended family and neighbours," she added.

Both parents often go out to work nowadays, she added, and mothers in particular find it almost impossible to catch up on missed sleep.

The study also showed that modern mothers and dads will try all sorts of gadgets to get their baby to sleep.

Six out of 10 (60 per cent) buy a cot mobile, 44 per cent a lullaby light and 36 per cent a rocking cradle or cot.

A total of 13 per cent play nursery rhyme tapes, 10 per cent uses womb or dolphin music and three per cent have tried cranial osteopathy.

The average age for new mothers in the study was 29 while dads were 32.

Of those questioned, 60 per cent were married, 32 per cent lived with their partner and eight per cent were single.