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Modern mothers suffer more stress and get less sleep
By John Carvel (The Guardian)
Updated: 2005-06-02 16:08

Mothers with new babies are getting 30% less sleep than their own mothers did in the 1960s and 1970s, according to a cross-generational poll yesterday on trends in nightly routines.

It found that today's babies wake on average three times a night and take 33 minutes to settle, compared with twice a night a generation ago when they took 20 minutes to settle.

As a result modern parents are at their wits' end from sleep starvation. The average new mother gets 3.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night compared with five hours in the 1960s and 1970s.

Two-thirds of today's mothers said this caused them to be bad-tempered, 61% tearful, 57% forgetful and 37% depressed. Half said they were desperate for sleep and an overwhelming 84% asserted that, given the chance, they would prefer sleep to sex.

Mothers who returned to full-time work felt particularly stressed, with 77% saying lack of sleep affected their working ability, rising to 89% in the south of England.

Half thought their boss did not understand their tiredness, rising to 67% in the north of England. Nearly one in five had to take days off work due to tiredness or stress.

More than two-thirds missed their baby while at work and 46% would prefer to be at home as a full-time mum.

Working fathers also felt the strain. Two-thirds felt their work was affected by lack of sleep. Yet, according to the mothers, only 19% of the fathers got up every night to help with the baby and 46% never got up.

The results came from a survey of 2,000 parents of new babies and 2,000 grandparents commissioned by Mother & Baby magazine and the nappy manufacturer Pampers.

They tried to discover whether babies' increasing wakefulness may have been caused by changes in parents' behaviour and attitudes.

There were some clues. It takes today's parents an average of 56 minutes to get the baby to sleep in the evening - double the time it took their own parents.

In the 1960s and 1970s, 80% of mothers had a set bedtime routine, starting with bathing and feeding. More than half "just put baby in the cot", while a third offered breast or bottle feeding until the infant was asleep. Only 2% let the baby drift off in front of the TV.

Now 69% say they have a set bedtime routine. Half the mothers breast or bottle feed the baby to sleep, 40% use cuddling and 10% allow drifting off in front of the television. Devices that were rarely used 30 years ago included taking the child for a car ride (16%) or playing a music/story tape (28%).

The most popular tune to get a baby to sleep was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, but many mothers swore by TV theme tunes from programmes they watched while pregnant, with EastEnders the favourite.

Elena Dalrymple, editor of Mother & Baby magazine, said: "Today's working parents are so time poor, their anxiety to 'get baby to bed so they can have a bit of an evening' actually prevents baby from falling asleep. Babies latch on to their parent's anxiety and stay awake instead."

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