5 Solutions To The Gender Sleep Gap

by Alana Romain

A recent study from Georgia Southern University found that, while motherhood has a negative impact on the amount of sleep women get (no kidding!), men actually get roughly the same amount of sleep whether or not they have kids. If you're currently a sleep-deprived dad, then the study's findings probably feel pretty offensive, but for a lot of moms, the news was scientific confirmation of something they already felt: that their partners hardly ever get up with the kids during the night. That is bad news for a number of reasons, but these five solutions to the gender sleep gap might help make nighttime wakings a more equally-shared parental responsibility.

According to The Chicago Tribune, study leader Kelly Sullivan said that while 62 percent of women without children in the study reported getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, only 48 percent of women with children could say the same. What's more is that the more children a woman had, the more likely she was to be sleep deprived: each additional child raises the odds by 50 percent. That probably isn't a surprise to any woman whose raised kids, but what is pretty surprising is that having children wasn't found to have an impact on men's sleep at all.

The researchers were unable to find a clear reason why, and there are, of course, many factors that could influence that result. The poll did not take into account the ages of the participants' children (and most parents tend to get the least amount of sleep when they have infants or very young kids), and there's also the fact that women who are breastfeeding often sleep less due to nighttime feedings. But the fact that many mothers seem to have responded to the study by discussing how little help they actually get from their partners during the night probably means there are things that men can do to be more supportive of their partners' sleep needs.

So if you're a sleep-deprived mom with a male partner who enjoys restful nights of uninterrupted shut-eye, here are some things you might want to consider:

Talk It Out

This should seem obvious, but if you haven't raised your concerns about your lack of sleep with your partner, then that's a good place to start. He might not even realize how much less sleep you are getting, and according to The Daily Mail, it's possible he might not even hear the baby in the night the way you do. A 2009 study in the UK actually found that while women consistently rated a crying baby to be the number one sound that would wake them up, men didn't even list it in the top 10 (seriously, crickets and ticking clocks rated higher).

Regardless, there's no doubt that a little communication can go a long way. And if the gender sleep gap is affecting you, then that might be a sign it's time to talk about it.

Take Turns

Perhaps the easiest way to strike a fair balance is to go completely 50-50: each night, one of you sleeps while the other is on wake-up duty. That's a pretty good way for everyone to know exactly how equal the nighttime parenting actually is, and there are less reasons to argue. If that's a no-go, you could at least negotiate nights — perhaps getting the weekend "off," or at least an agreement that he wakes up to help if you're having a particularly rough night.

Don't Get In Your Own Way

Being in a co-parenting relationship with someone who you feel doesn't pull their weight is so tough, but one parenting expert warns that, for some less-involved dads, the issue may actually be that they are feeling overly-criticized, or that they feel like they can't possibly live up to their partner's expectations. In her book, Calmer, Easier, Happy Boys, Noël Janis-Norton wrote that some mothers may be unwittingly pushing away their partners by sending the message that their way is the only "right" way, or by not giving dads leeway to have their own parenting style. She argued, according to The Telegraph, that “the less involved a father is, the less confident he will feel and the less confident he feels, the less involved he will want to be."

That, of course, doesn't mean that women whose partners don't help out are to blame — dads obviously need to be responsible for their children's care-taking just as much as moms are. But it can also be true that the antiquated gender roles that we've been moving away from in relationships can seep back in to relationships once children arrive, especially if one parent works full-time while the other stays home. If that's the case in your household, it might be worth considering whether your partner might need more encouragement to handle the extra tasks, or whether he avoids doing his share because he feels like he's going to screw up.

Consider Co-Sleeping

If your partner is just not budging — or, if there are other circumstances involved, like a challenging work schedule that can't really be accommodated — then it might help to try bringing your child to bed with you. Co-sleeping is not for everyone (some people sleep much, much worse with their kids beside them), but if it works for you, it might at least mean you don't have to actually get out of bed each night when your kid wakes up or cries.

Determine Your Priorities

After my husband and I welcomed twins in 2012, our all-hands-on-deck system was pretty much shift based: since I am naturally a night owl, I stayed up late to do feedings and changes while my husband went to bed early, and he got up before the sun for parent duty while I slept in. Our twins are 4 years old now, but we still often have at least one middle-of-the-night waking (or an absurdly early morning). And the truth is that, most of the time, my husband handles it.

While I do feel kind of guilty that he's more sleep-deprived than I am, we also can both acknowledge that this still works out for the best overall. As much as he might not like those interrupted nights and mornings, he is much better at handling them than I am, and has a significantly higher threshold for sleep deprivation-related insanity. I, on the other hand, have much more patience for other things, like handling all the after school stuff (picking them up, feeding them, keeping them occupied and keeping my cool when they fight or make a big mess), and I'm also much better at getting them in bed at a reasonable time without a struggle. In the past, we've attempted to take turns with the nighttime duties, but honestly? Getting up at night 50 percent of the time meant I was nowhere near as able to handle my during-the-day parenting stuff, so now, we just stick to what we're good at.

It's obviously really, really important that your partner helps as much as possible if you're feeling burdened by sleep deprivation — especially because prolonged sleep deprivation is bad for your health, and can make certain tasks, like driving, more dangerous, according to Healthline. But an equal sleep arrangement isn't necessarily what will work best in all cases, so figuring out what you both need and are willing to sacrifice will make sure that whatever you decide will be beneficial.

The one unfortunate reality for the majority of parents is that, well, parenthood is exhausting. That can be seriously frustrating — especially if you feel as though you're doing a disproportionate share of the work! But the good news, at least, is that the gender sleep gap doesn't necessarily have to be a given.