Women Give Up Sleep to Care for Others
Study Shows Women More Likely to Get Up From Bed to Take Care of Babies or Sick Parents
Understanding Why Women Are More Likely to Get Up at Night
So what’s to explain why women are more likely to be the nighttime caregivers in their households than men?
Part of the explanation may be biological. Women who are breastfeeding, for example, may be the only ones who can feed children in the middle of the night.
And a 2007 brain imaging study found that people reacted differently to a child’s cries depending on their sex and whether or not they were parents, leading scientists to wonder if men just don’t hear nighttime cries as quickly as women do.
And Burgard thinks some children may learn to prefer their mother’s attention at night, and in that way, make the choice for weary parents.
Some women may also take particular pride in claiming the role of primary caregivers in their homes, exhausting as that may be.
Sleep Important for Health
Meir Kryger, MD, the director of sleep research and education at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn., has spent his career trying to understand gender differences in sleep.
He says many women find it a lifelong struggle to get a good night’s rest, and their health suffers for it.
“But step one is to make sleep a priority and say, ‘In order to feel good, I need to sleep well, and in order to sleep well and enough, I need to do something about it,” Kryger says. “Sometimes the doing something about it is simply saying, ‘OK, I’m only sleeping four hours a night because I’m up for two hours. I’m going to split this duty with my husband or partner, or whatever.’ In other words, start to make solutions to whatever the problem is.”
Maume agrees. He says this research could be a way for a woman to open a dialogue with her more rested partner.
“Getting sufficient sleep is an obligation we owe to ourselves so that we can be better at work and have more harmonious family lives,” Maume says. “Of course, the insight of this article is that women more than men are accountable for the needs of family members, and their sleep gets short-changed as a result. So to the extent that women define household obligations and childrearing as activities that should be shared, the more successful they will be preventing their sleep being interrupted by caregiving.”