Study Identifies Factors That Keep New Mothers From Getting the Sleep They NeedGetting a good night’s sleep is difficult for most new moms. But it may be especially so for lower income mothers, from researchers at the College of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Sleep deprivation leads to depression and increased problems in personal relationships. It can also harm a woman’s health and decrease her productivity, costing society billions of dollars. While new lower income mothers have more difficulty getting adequate sleep, the study also suggests that many of the factors that prevent them from sleeping may be easily overcome.
The study was published in the current issue of the and was funded by the program and the National Institute of Nursing Research. The primary investigator was Jennifer Doering, PhD, RN, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, College of Nursing.
The study identified several causes of sleep deprivation, the most prevalent of which is bed sharing. The research team found that bed sharing was common among lower income women who are new moms. Two weeks after giving birth, when asked “who sleeps in bed with you most nights?” nearly two in five (38 percent) mothers reported sleeping with a male partner and one in five (19 percent) slept with their newborn, the study found. About 29 percent of the mothers said they slept with one older child, 8 percent slept with two older children and 25 percent said they slept alone. In sleep diaries that were kept four and eight weeks after giving birth, approximately 25 percent of mothers reported sharing a bed with the infant. Mothers also reported increased bed sharing with their male partners and a decrease in bed sharing with older children during this same time period.
Doering surveyed 183 new mothers from two Midwestern hospitals who gave birth to healthy infants and who were on Medicaid. Two weeks after giving birth, they completed a survey with questions about if and how often they smoked, how long they watched television and/or listened to the radio at night, common noises in the sleep environment, where they and their infants slept, and household size. Study participants also kept three days and nights of sleep diaries, recording the number of times they woke up at night, how many caffeinated and/or alcoholic beverages they drank, how much they smoked, if and with whom they shared a bed and the reasons for sleep disruption.
The study found that half (52 percent) of participants slept with the television on part (31 percent) or all of the night (69 percent). More than four in five (85 percent) mothers in the study drank caffeine and one in four (24 percent) smoked.
Two weeks after giving birth, the mothers were asked what sounds routinely awakened them at night. More than half the sleep disruptions were due to the infant. Other common sleep disturbing factors included sounds of other people or pets in the home, and sounds within the building or neighbors. At four and eight weeks after giving birth, the infant was still the most common reason for being awakened. The second most common factor that interfered with sleep were “family and social issues,” which included children or family disrupting sleep, losing sleep due to socializing with friends, conflict with a past partner or the health of a family member. The third most common reason for interrupted sleep was the mother’s health including the common cold, headaches, menstruation or mental stressors, such as depression and anger.
Doering said her research offers a hopeful and practical pathway forward. “With the necessary modifications, sleep deprived mothers could well be on their way to more continuous, sound sleep,” she said.