Meet a new parent, and often you’re facing someone who looks sleepy. After all, a demanding newborn doesn’t care if you have work the next day, or an important business meeting to prepare for, or even that you might want to watch a basketball game. A baby can alter lots of things, and one of them is sleep. Let’s explore this connection between fatherhood and sleep.
There are fewer data than you might anticipate on the effects of fatherhood on men’s sleep hours, sleep disruptions, and sleepiness. One of the best studies, published in 2004, focused on sleep patterns among a sample of 72 men late during their partner’s pregnancy and within a month after the birth of their child. This was a study conducted in the San Francisco Bay area, and relied on questionnaire and wrist actigraphy (which tracks body movement) of fathers’ sleep. Fathers slept a little over 7 hours before their baby was born, with that dropping about 15 minutes within the month after birth, but this small difference was not statistically significant. After the birth of his child, fathers reported more sleep disturbances and fatigue, however, and the more sleep disturbances reported the more fatigue noted. Fathers’ sleep characteristics did not differ depending on whether their partner was breastfeeding exclusively or not. A minority of fathers did not work; working fathers evidenced a trend toward fewer sleep disruptions, possibly because they were asked to help less during the night. About 15% of working fathers reported sleeping in another room to reduce sleep disturbances.
A new and huge nationally representative U.S. study adds to our understanding of fatherhood and sleep. This study relied on time diaries of over 50,000 adults, aged 18-64, recorded between 2003 and 2007. Of the men in the sample, 16% were partnered and had a child younger than 6 years of age. Men’s sleep varied with respect to partnership and parenting status. Fathers of young children slept about 8 hours, effectively the same amount of sleep compared to fathers of older children 6-17 years of age. Young partnered but childless men slept only a few more minutes than these fathers. However, about 3% of fathers of young children had interrupted sleep for caregiving, whereas virtually no fathers of older children or childless men did. One consideration why fathers’ sleep hours differed little depending on whether they had younger or older children could be work hours. Men who worked 8 or more hours slept about an hour less the previous night compared to men who worked less than 8 hours, showing that differences in men’s sleep were more strongly related to work than parental factors. And in this sample of fathers the vast majority of both younger and older children worked.
A major influence of fatherhood on men’s sleep is where men sleep. In a study of men’s sleep transitions from late in a partner’s pregnancy to early postpartum in Japan, men’s hours of sleep didn’t change, though their sleep rhythms, such as patterns of waking and duration of sleep, did. Many of these Japanese fathers began sleeping apart from their partner and infant to reduce the impacts of sleep. As cross-cultural comparisons show, fathers’ sleep arrangements can be quite variable, meaning the choice of some Japanese or San Francisco fathers to sleep separately is not unique. In a survey of 80 small-scale societies conducted by Helen Ball and colleagues, they found that fathers in 31% of these societies co-slept (shared the same bed or some other sleeping surface) with their partner and child; in 29%, fathers slept apart but in the same room; and in another 31% of societies fathers slept apart but in a different room or dwelling. Interestingly, even if perhaps yielding more sleep disruptions and next-day yawns, fathers who co-slept or slept in the same room as their child had stronger paternal relationships to their infants. Adding further insight to fathers and sleeping proximity, in a large sample of fathers in the Philippines, Lee Gettler and colleagues found that fathers who co-slept had lower testosterone levels than fathers who didn’t co-sleep.
So what do we know about the impact of fatherhood on men’s sleep? We’ve got a few studies, barely scratching the range of variation between different time frames before and after having kids. There’s variation across and within societies in fathers’ sleep arrangements, which can impact sleep patterns and paternal relationships and even men’s testosterone levels. There’s an overarching importance of work, in which working fathers may struggle to minimize sleep challenges. There’s also much more to be said on fathers’ sleep. If you're a man who sleep-walked through the early daze of fatherhood, you know what I mean.
Ball, H. L., E. Hooker, & P. J. Kelly. (2000). Parent-infant co-sleeping: Fathers’ roles and perspectives. Infant and Child Development, 9, 67-74.
Burgard, S. A., & J. A. Ailshire. (2013). Gender and time for sleep among U.S. adults. American Sociological Review, 78, 51-69.
Gay, C. L., K. A. Lee, & S-Y. Lee. (2004). Sleep patterns and fatigue in new mothers and fathers. Biological Research for Nursing, 5, 311-318.
Gettler, L. T., J. J. McKenna, T. W. McDade, S. S. Agustin, & C. W. Kuzawa. (2012). Does cosleeping contribute to lower testosterone levels in fathers? Evidence from the Philippines. PLoS ONE, 7(9), e41559.
Yamazaki, A., K. A. Lee, H. P. Kennedy, & S. J. Weiss. (2005). Sleep-wake cycles, social rhythms, and sleeping arrangements during Japanese childbearing transitions. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologica, and Neonatal Nursing, 34, 342-348.