Lack of sleep is the biggest challenge of parenthood, according to a survey of 50,000 parents. Nine out of ten parents said a good night’s sleep is “priceless” after you have a baby, with a third saying they have to survive on less than six hours a night.
The Pampers Golden Sleep survey, conducted on the Pampers website in December 2008, highlighted the detrimental effect that lack of sleep can have on the family – 92% of parents saying that lack of sleep affects their mood the next day.
Sleep expert Professor Stores, of the University of Oxford, says, “Sleep is vital to a baby’s development, but it is also essential for the parents. Insufficient sleep, especially over a prolonged period, can affect their relationship with their baby and each other, as well as other aspects of life including performance at work, general well-being and overall quality of life.”
The survey found that, although 94% of UK mums use a bedtime routine to help encourage their baby to sleep, evidence suggests that this routine focuses on settling baby so they fall asleep rather than developing habits that maintain an uninterrupted night-time sleep. A high proportion of babies wake up during the night wanting their parents’ attention.
Professor Stores suggests, “This survey highlights the need parents have for more information on how to promote good sleep habits in babies, and for it to be simple and effective – so they can gain a better understanding of what is ideal and possible to achieve.”
European differences in parenting styles:
Looking at the differences between parenting styles in the UK, Germany and France, the survey found that the French are less likely to intervene during the night – and potentially because of this their babies are more likely to sleep longer.
UK data compared with European statistics that stand out:
- Percentage of parents who feed their baby if they wake up during the night: UK 36%, Germany 48%, France 10%
- Percentage of parents who stay with their baby if they wake during the night: UK 15%, Germany 17%, France 4%
- Percentage of parents who take child to their bed if woken up: UK 18%, Germany 23%, France 4%
- Percentage of babies who wake during the night due to a lost toy: UK 27%, Germany 47%, France 29%
- Percentage of babies that sleep less than 7 hours per night (significantly less than the ideal): UK 39%, Germany 37%, France 17%
Commenting on the study, Professor Gregory Stores says, “On the surface it looks as if French mothers seemingly take fewer steps to intervene when their babies wake up in the night, which helps them to sleep longer during the night. However, the percentage of babies waking because of a lost toy indicates that they are still perhaps using certain ‘unhelpful’ techniques to get their babies to fall asleep in the first place.”
With specific reference to the French providing far less night-time feeds, Professor Stores explains, “By the age of 4-6 months the biological clock of most full-term, healthy infants is sufficiently developed for them to be able to sleep throughout the night without needing to be fed. Unnecessarily frequent night feeds can interfere with the self soothe process as babies who are repeatedly waking up are being ‘rewarded’ by being fed. Providing your baby is putting on weight, babies who are fed less at night make up for this by tending to feed longer during the day to ensure that they obtain adequate nourishment.”
Outlining what can help promote good sleep habits in babies, Professor Stores, who is also on the Pampers Village Parenting Panel, says, “The survey findings demonstrate the need for many parents to know how best to teach their babies to go to sleep by themselves, so-called ‘self soothing’. A consistent bedtime routine that includes this – helping your baby to fall asleep without either parent having to be with them – is the number one sleep recommendation for parents.”
As further comfort to many parents, although the survey found that around a quarter of parents think it takes a month to change a baby’s sleep habits, Professor Stores considers that, with the right approach, it could actually take no more than a matter of days to change bad sleep habits.