For many moms, constant sleep deprivation is a standard feature of motherhood -- just like blouses stained with spit-up and Cheerios crumbs in every purse.
And it's not only sleep-deprived mothers of newborns who are dragging. Whether you have a preschooler demanding encores of You Are My Sunshine at 4 a.m. or a high schooler thumping up the stairs an hour after curfew, sleep doesn't come easy to mothers -- regardless of how old their kids are.
Experts say that sleep-deprived mothers shouldn't be so blasé about the problem.
"Mothers really underestimate the importance of getting enough sleep," says Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, a professor of psychology at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and author of Sleep Deprived No More: From Pregnancy to Early Motherhood -- Helping You & Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. "Sleep deprivation has so many serious consequences for their health and their families."
Of course, you'd like to sleep better than you do. But a lot of the typical sleep advice is about improving your sleeping environment and calming yourself before bed. That's all well and good. It's just that adjusting the feng shui of your bedroom or buying a Soothing Ocean Tide Sound Machine won't help much when you're up six times a night replacing the pacifier in a squalling infant's mouth.
You know what's disrupting your sleep: being a mother. But is there anything you can do about it?
Mothers and Sleep Loss: It’s Not Just for Babies
"There's very little data about how parents sleep, but obviously there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that they don't sleep enough," says Thomas Roth, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. While fathers probably don't sleep so well either, mothers are perhaps likely to suffer more.
The negative impact of being a mom on your quality of sleep starts before your baby is born (sleeping with the compressed bladder and beach ball belly of pregnancy isn't easy) and can last well beyond kindergarten. Studies indicate that almost 14% of grade school kids are still getting their parents up in the night, Mindell says.
Children waking up at night aren't the only reason for all of those sleep-deprived mothers shuffling through life. Part of the problem is that mothers put their kids to bed and then stay up much later than they should.
It's understandable, Mindell says. "A lot of moms see the night as their own quiet time to relax or as a chance to get things done that they couldn't during the day," she tells WebMD. So instead of going to bed earlier to compensate for the sleep they're losing in the night, mothers might stay up later -- further eroding the time they sleep.