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Article: Paternal Sleep Deprivation

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By Georgie Bateman 

At Night Nannies we are very aware of the sleep deprivation that new mothers have to cope with, but a subject not so frequently addressed is how fathers struggle in the same way. Research conducted by Night Nannies has uncovered some interesting facts. Fathers felt they suffered from sleep deprivation just as much as mothers but one response elicited the rueful comment "although she doesn't think so." They found having a baby in the room with them was very disturbing, but when
Sleep deprivation image
the baby was 
finally moved to its own room, the disruption caused by the mother getting up to do night feeds or settle the baby was actually worse. Most fathers said they didn't discuss the issue with anyone – they felt that friends wouldn't want to hear about it; wives or partners tended to be doing the lion's share of night care anyway so would not be terribly sympathetic; and work colleagues would be indifferent or see it as an excuse for poor performance. In addition, it was unanimously felt that if sleep deprivation impacted on the success of the team their jobs would be in jeopardy. However, one comment which resonated among the respondants was: "It's a shame, because having children actually makes you want to strive harder to provide for them."

Like mothers, fathers in the survey said they would only discuss the problem with a professional if they felt there was a chance of resolving it; most felt that the professionals they spoke to weren't very helpful in this regard. Many fathers admitted that they became short-tempered and, although a small part of their brain recognized that they were behaving like a brat throwing a temper tantrum, nevertheless they did not make the effort to control their tempers that they normally would.

A quote which seems to sum up the essential difference between a mother's attitude to sleep deprivation compared to that of her other half came from a father who said: "The difference between my wife and I is that I would happily do away with sleep (if my body could cope) in order to do other rewarding escapist non-energetic activities (movies, TV, videogames, reading). For my wife the sleep itself is the reward which made it harder when she didn't get much."

Sleep deprivation imageAn Army father made the comment that: "I thought I was used to lack of sleep when out on exercise, but in the Army you have an end point so you know it won't last forever. With a newborn, this isn't the case and makes it harder to cope. Also, you know that the Army won't make you do anything dangerous when you are sleep-deprived, such as operating machinery. However, I know lots of exhausted fathers who have to get up and drive to work in the morning." Other fathers agreed, making the point that a baby's sleep patterns can be totally unpredictable and require endless patience. Trying to console a sobbing baby in the middle of the night so that your wife can get some sleep is a daunting task.

Some fathers explain how their wives took the brunt of it. "There seemed little point in having two exhausted adults in the household, bickering at each other. I took on extra chores, like buying and cooking dinner for us both, hanging out washing etc, so she didn't feel she was doing everything, but it was a mutual decision and I was lucky that felt the sleepless nights were her responsibility. It was partly to do with her desire to breastfeed, which I couldn't help with, but I do take my hat off to her – I couldn't have done it."

Another father explained how he agonized over the changes his newborn had brought. "Whilst the mother is fully occupied caring for the new baby, the father feels rather spare but doesn't have time to fret during the day. This happens when you put your head on the pillow - these guilt trips and mixed emotions play on your anxieties and hinder you from sleep. Quite often, I have remained awake to try to understand if I could help more. You also feel the mother and newborn have a stronger bond, so you do whatever it takes (even at the expense of sleep) to grow the bond between yourself and the new addition."

Given that the fathers in the survey were clients of Night Nannies, it is unsurprising that the question, "How did you deal with your sleep deprivation?" brought the unanimous answer, "Get a Night Nanny"! However, fathers drew on experience of previous babies to say that eventually the sleep deprivation does get better and you find that you are a stronger couple as a result of your shared suffering. One father summed it up for everyone by saying: "I just look at our lovely daughter each morning and all my resentment and tiredness melt away."

Georgie Bateman runs Night Nannies in Hampshire and has extensive experience of helping parents deal with sleep deprivation. For more information call 01794 301762, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit their website

This article featured in the March/April 2012 issue (no. 39) of Families Solent East magazine. For more information visit their website

Images: David Castillo Dominici /

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