Let mom sleep: the truth about sleep needs

woman asleep on a bed with cover pulled up to head

Let’s be honest.

Getting enough sleep as a mom isn’t easy.

There are no protected daytime breaks and no nights off. At least not on a consistent basis. And sleep is always competing with everything else we need to do.

The result? We often end up getting less mom sleep than we need—and unable to show up for ourselves and the people we love most.

By the end of this post, you’ll know how much shuteye you truly need to get through those busy mom days.

Curious to find out?

Woman asleep on bed with text overlay stating: "let mom sleep: the truth about sleep needs"

How much sleep do I need?

This is the eternal question for moms and reframed in mama-speak it sounds more like: “How little sleep can I get by on?”

If you’re like me, I’m hopeful that my daily sleep requirement is small—a number that can be easily squeezed between the landslide of daytime (and not uncommonly, nighttime) demands. A sleep amount that allows me to be at my best but that doesn’t make me fall even further behind on an endless to do list.

So, there’s a lot on the line. Enough to make it worth digging deeper into that important question—how much sleep do we really need?

Let’s put mom sleep aside for a moment and start with averages. What are the daily hours of slumber most adults need?

Thanks to an extensive body of sleep research, we’ve got robust data to inform us. Drawing on this evidence, it’s safe to say that most adults between 18 and 60 years of age need more than 7 hours of nightly sleep.

How does that number sound to you?

Woman with finger to mouth appearing to be questioning something
@DimaBerlin via Twenty20

We don’t typically get the sleep we need

It turns out that reaching the recommended daily sleep quota of 7 hours plus is no small feat.

The Canadian Health Measures Survey, conducted from 2007-2013, found that 32% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 64 years of age were getting less than the minimum 7 hours.

And Canadians need not feel lonely when it comes to missing the mark on sufficient shut-eye.

The 2013 International Bedroom Sleep Survey, which looked at sleep habits in six countries, revealed that sleep issues know no borders. For example, Japanese and Americans averaged around 6 hours of daily sleep. This makes the Canadian average of just over 7 hours look, well, almost good.

Another survey finding? Less than 50% of respondents in all countries, other than Japan, reported getting good quality sleep on most nights.

There are clearly a lot of poorly rested adults out there!

But what about moms, specifically? Where does mom sleep fit into this larger picture?

Are we mamas faring better—or worse—than these study results suggest?

Mom sleep: women need to sleep more

It likely comes as no surprise to you that women typically fare worse than men when it comes to sleep, especially after children enter the picture.

Moms often do the lion share of childcare, including overnight duties, And more women than ever are trying to balance both work and home life responsibilities.

The end result? Too much on our plates with sleep being among the pillars of self-care that gets the short shrift.

Returning to the Canadian Health Survey results, 43% of men and 55% of women reported poor quality sleep. And women also outnumbered men when it came to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (35% versus 25%, respectively).

The divide between men and women sleep often starts before baby even arrives. Factors such as body aches, changing hormones, and worries can all disrupt an expecting mom’s sleep.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any better once baby arrives on the scene. One large study found that during the early newborn period, moms loose 60 minutes of nightly sleep, whereas dads fall behind by13 minutes.

And sleep problems may persist well beyond the infant phase.

Parenting brings a whole host of potential sleep challenges including bedtime struggles, overnight awakenings, and early morning risers—all of which can make it super hard to fit in enough good quality sleep. In fact, one study suggests that sleep may not return to pre-pregnancy levels for 6 years after baby comes home.

Geez. Will we mamas ever get a break?

The picture is pretty clear at this point. Moms—especially mamas with young kids—are probably among the most sleep deprived people on the planet.

But how do we figure out if we’re, personally, falling short on sleep?

We’ll address that next.

Mom sleep interrupted by young son lying on this mother who is awake and appears bothered
@heather_lee_wilson via Twenty20

We may not notice we’re short on sleep

It turns out that many of us are poor judges of how much sleep we truly need.

And to further complicate matters, we may not even realize we’re running short on sleep. Over time, the fog from sleep deprivation becomes our new, albeit blunted, reality. And this has important consequences for both our own and other people’s wellbeing.

In fact, the level of impairment from sleep deprivation has been likened to being intoxicated. And in this ‘sleep drunk state,’ we’re prone to making mistakes—sometimes with weighty consequences.

However, there are often clues that something’s not quite right.

Personally, I know I’m running short on sleep when I leave my reusable coffee mug (and sometimes phone) on top of the car.

During one particular sleep deprived haze, my phone made a perilous 15-minute journey on top of our Mazda. A strange buzzing sound, vibrating through the car ceiling, was the first hint that something was amiss. I’m thankful that my tired state didn’t result in more consequential mishaps.

Another big sign that I need more sleep? Being irritable and snapping over the smallest of things like a spill or a minor delay.

Perhaps you, too, have tell-tale signs of getting short on sleep, such as:

  1. Struggling with morning wake-ups
  2. Feeling sleepy throughout the day
  3. Catching up on sleep when you can (e.g., napping, sleeping in on weekends)
  4. Finding yourself excessively moody, irritable, depressed, or anxious
  5. Falling asleep at inappropriate times (e.g., while working, driving)
  6. Struggling to focus on tasks
  7. Falling asleep almost immediately after you crawl into bed

If you find yourself nodding (sleepily) to more than one of the above, there’s a good chance you’re in need of more sleep. 

Woman with head on desk appearing to be tired or asleep
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

So how do I get more mom sleep?

Although it would be nice to be sleep invincible, the truth is getting shuteye is an essential part of our wellbeing.

Without enough mom sleep we can’t show up for ourselves, nor others. This is especially true when we’re chronically overtired.

At this point, you know how much sleep you need to thrive. You also have a better sense of whether you’re falling short on those precious zzzs.

But what comes next? Especially considering we mamas have a lot stacked against us when it comes to getting the sleep we need.

While there are no quick fixes, we can take steps to better rested days. Check out my post on sleep tips for moms to get you started.

And stay tuned for more posts on how to get yourself (and your whole family) better rested.

I’d love to hear from you!

How are you doing with sleep? Do you get at least 7 hours of nightly shuteye? And how does tiredness show up in your life?

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