Sleep

Why Moms Are Having More Trouble Sleeping During Coronavirus

New research finds that insomnia has doubled in moms during the pandemic.

Posted Oct 13, 2020

Jen Theodore/Unsplash
Insomnia in mothers has doubled during COVID-19.
Source: Jen Theodore/Unsplash

Any mother can tell you that sleep deprivation is often part of the job. But mothers are losing more sleep than ever according to a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, and it’s all because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel reported that rates of clinical insomnia in mothers doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 11% of mothers had insomnia in the 1-2 months prior to the pandemic, but during pandemic life, 23% of mothers report significant difficulty sleeping. Further, the researchers felt a lot of this had to do with anxiety, with approximately 80% of the mothers reporting mild‐to‐high levels of current anxiety about COVID‐19. 

"We further observed that mothers who reported an increase in insomnia symptoms had significantly higher levels of acute COVID-19 anxiety than mothers who reported no change in insomnia symptoms, while no group differences were detected in their typical (trait) anxiety levels, suggesting that current anxiety may contribute to the increase in severity of insomnia symptoms," said Professor Liat Tikotzky, one of the study authors, in a press release.

When it came to their kids, the results varied. 70% of mothers reported no change in their children's’ sleep while 30% said their kids’ sleep was lower quality or of lesser duration. That 30% correlated with the same mothers who were having trouble sleeping themselves, which is consistent with prior studies. In pre-pandemic times, research has shown a link between maternal and child sleep quality.

COVID-19’s impact on sleep is not all bad.

But some kids in the study were actually sleeping better during the coronavirus pandemic. About 12% of mothers reported their children's’ sleep was of better quality, and 25% said their kids were sleeping longer.

And that lines up with findings in the U.S. and Europe from June when two studies found that less structured schedules at home had led to people sleeping more. Not only were people reporting more sleep on average, but they also reported less “social jetlag.” Social jetlag is fatigue which is caused by staying up late on the weekends to hang out with friends. On the other hand, one of the studies also found that people said their sleep quality was poorer during the pandemic.

"Usually, we would expect a decrease in social jetlag to be associated with reports of improved sleep quality,” sleep researcher and cognitive neuroscientist Christine Blume from the University of Basel, Switzerland told Science Daily. "However, in our sample, overall sleep quality decreased. We think that the self-perceived burden, which substantially increased during this unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, may have outweighed the otherwise beneficial effects of reduced social jetlag."

Mothers are hit hardest.

While the study in Israel looked at 264 mothers, another in the UK looked at 15,360 people. In that study, the impact on mothers’ sleep was striking. Difficulty sleeping among mothers with kids aged 4 years and younger doubled from 19.5% to 40%. It was almost as bad for mothers whose children were between ages 5 and 18, with sleeplessness rising from 21.7% to 38%. These numbers were much higher in mothers than in other groups.

Professor Jane Falkingham of Southhampton University in the UK and her team attributed greater sleep loss among mothers to the way they were disproportionately taking on the burdens imposed by the pandemic. Mothers are taking on much more of the responsibility for home-schooling their children than men since March.

This is so true here in the U.S. that every time I talk to teachers they say remote learning depends on mothers. “It’s hard teaching the kids on the computer, but the moms are helping all day,” the teachers tell me. No one has mentioned dads.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and policy responses to it, including home working and schooling, have widened the disparities of sleep deprivation across gender, putting women and mothers at an even greater disadvantage,” Falkingham told The Guardian. Indeed, other recent research has shown that mothers are paying the price at work during the pandemic in a way that is widening the gender gap.

As the pandemic drags on, and so do the extra demands on mothers, moms really need a good night's sleep.