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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June, 2005, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Modern mothers 'have less sleep'
Mother with baby in shadow
Modern mums find it harder to get a good night's sleep
Modern parents get around 30% less sleep than their own mothers did, a survey has suggested.

A survey of 2,000 new parents and 2,000 people aged 55 to 65 was carried out by Mother And Baby and Yours magazines.

It found today's parents try all kinds of things to get their babies to sleep through the night, including taking the infant into their own bed.

In contrast, parents in the 1960s and 1970s tended to say their babies had slept peacefully in their own cots.

Sleep starvation is a huge problem for today's parents
Elena Dalrymple, Mother and Baby magazine

New mothers of young babies reported that, on average, they only have three and a half hours sleep a night, compared to five hours which the older generation said they used to get.

The fact that most women now have to return to work after having a baby means they are unable to catch up on sleep during the day, Mother And Baby says.

Eight out of 10 mums who had returned to work said a lack of sleep affected their work, with half saying their boss was not understanding.

Two thirds of those surveyed said this "sleep starvation" left them feeling bad-tempered, with the same proportion reporting irritation with their partner.

Other problems reported were being tearful, forgetful, depressed or despairing. A third reported being more accident prone or clumsy, 27% unable to function properly, and another 27% irritable with their baby.

Six out of 10 say lack of sleep has "spoilt their sex-life" and 84% say they "prefer sleep to sex".

But the survey found only around a third of women who had been mothers in the 1960s and 1970s, when most did not work, ever felt bad-tempered or irritable with their partner due to lack of sleep - and only 12% say lack of sleep spoilt their sex life.


Modern fathers also reported sleep deprivation. More than half said they got up in the night to tend to their children, whereas 71% of fathers in the 1960s and 1970s never got out of bed.

Babies' sleep patterns also seem to be worse now. Modern babies wake up three times a night and take 33 minutes to settle each time, compared to babies in the 1960s and 1970s who tended to only wake twice in the night and took just 20 minutes to settle.

The survey also concluded parents now take twice as long to get their babies to sleep in the evening as their parents' generation did - an average of 56 minutes compared to 28.

The methods mothers used to get their babies to sleep have also changed.

In the 1960s and 1970s, babies tended to be put in their cots and left to drift off.

Parents now are most likely to feed or cuddle their baby until they fall asleep, although one in 10 said they let their baby drift off in front of the TV.

When modern mothers were asked how they viewed advice from their own mothers or mother-in-laws, three quarters said they were irritated - but 62% admitted "she is usually right".

Elena Dalrymple, editor of Mother and Baby magazine, said: "Sleep starvation is a huge problem for today's parents.

"Parents today put themselves under immense pressure to be perfect and having a baby who sleeps well is seen as a sign of being successful parents - despite the fact young babies need to feed at night and take months to settle into a good night-time routine."

Penney Hames, who wrote the National Childbirth Trust's book, 'Help your baby to sleep' said: "'Having a baby is a very different experience than it was in the 60s and 70s.

"Parenting roles are no longer so rigidly defined and parents have to - and want to - make up their own rules to fit in with the sorts of lives they want to lead."

But she said babies would always need relaxed parents to ease them into a good night's sleep.

Your comments

My daughter has always slept well
E. Nicolson, Sherington, UK

Being a working mum doesn't mean I can't also be a good (and generally relaxed and content) parent. My daughter has always slept well, largely because we tried to get her used to sleeping on her own from very early on and have had very few problems. She's a happy, largely healthy toddler and her parents are generally relaxed and content, too! Of course, it could all go wrong when we hit the terrible twos.
E. Nicolson, Sherington, UK

I have one 3 year old and can totally relate to the article. I expected a lack of sleep when he was tiny, but three years on I still don't get a peaceful night's sleep. The biggest helpful tip I have is don't have your child sleep in beside you. It might seem a good idea at the time but they will never leave and you end up with a nightmare of a situation, both you and your child are exhausted!
K. Sime, Rochester, Rochester, Kent

My experience with my two year-old and my 8 month-old has been that by adopting the philosophy of taking it easy with our babies (i.e. let them cry it out but letting them know that we're there if needed), the babies will sense the relaxation and go to sleep on their own. This helps create rested babies that are healthier and generally with better temperament.
C. Ho, Athens, Greece

There's a lot of expectation in today's society (in this country). Careers, home ownership (big mortgages to service ridiculous house prices - and renting no longer seems to be an alternative), high standard of living etc, etc., along with balancing traditional family values. No wonder sleep suffers for parents (and health, relationships etc)!!! At least some aspects of technology can help to redress the balance. We've recovered an evening a week because we now have our shopping delivered from a well-known on-line shopping service, rather than having to go to the supermarket.
John Stuart, UK

There's no point asking people aged 55 - 65 about parenting. We all know that eventually the hideousness of tending to babies that won't sleep is forgotten. If we all remembered exactly how many times our babies woke, and how long it took to get them back to sleep, no one would have a second child! Ask new parents who are in the midst of trying to cope with a new born, and of course they'll tell you it's difficult! It is, but you soon forget! And don't start telling me that babies were better behaved back 'in those days'!
Mr Godley, London

I have 3 late teen children - they slept reasonably well as little ones, compared to the children of friends now. The difference? We 'expected' our children to have a 'bed-time' and valued our evenings with them tucked up asleep. This helped our marriage, our tiredness levels and our sanity! Any social life did require forward planning and babysitters, it was something we worked at. Nowadays this type of expectation seems to be old-fashioned, yet I see children spoilt, often grumpy because they're exhausted and more sickly, with parents at their wits end and relationships crumbling.
M. Williams, Oxford

Surprise surprise - there are no free lunches when it comes to bringing up children! As much as the government tries to tell mothers to "get back to work" they are only doing it for the tax it brings in. They don't give two hoots about the strength of your family. Personally my instinct is to be 100% mother without a wage rather than a wage-earning 50% hi-stress mum. Money is not the answer.
Mrs S. Wilkinson, Berkhamstead


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