How can sleep deprivation affect your relationship?

Sleep deprivation is a well-known side effect of bringing up children, particularly for new parents. We explore what effects this can have on the parents – in particular, how does sleep deprivation affect the parental relationship?

In his book ‘Why We Sleep,’ (2017) Matthew Walker PhD. states “the leading causes of all health issues in developed nations all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep. [1]

It is estimated that new parents lose out on 109 minutes of sleep each night during the first 12 months of parenthood. This equates to a whopping 663 hours per year.[2]  Unfortunately, this sleep deficit is not exclusive to the newborn stage – a small 2010 study suggested that over 60% of parents with children 24 months or younger get no more than 3 1/4 hours of sleep each night [3]. This is particularly alarming if we consider that the CDC recommends a healthy adult should achieve 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. [4]

“There is a clear link between lack of sleep and the quality of one’s relationships” 

The consequences of sleep deprivation on an individual’s health have been clearly established (see here, here, and here) – not only does it affect their physical and mental health as an individual, but there is a clear link between lack of sleep and the quality of one’s relationships. [5]

After polling 2000 parents, one study found that 30% of couples who had parted ways said that child-induced sleep deprivation had been a direct causative factor in the breakdown of their relationship. [6]

In light of this, one may not be surprised to learn that a fifth of couples experience a relationship breakdown within 12 months of welcoming a new baby – sleep deprivation can place major additional strain on relationships that are already under pressure in raising a child. 

“30% of couples who had parted ways said that child-induced sleep deprivation had been a direct causative factor” 

How does sleep deprivation affect new parents?

Sleep deprivation isn’t exclusive to parents – many of us know how it feels to get up after a couple of hours of disrupted sleep, with knock-on effects on both mental and physical wellbeing. Parents experience irritability and low mood after a broken night’s sleep, feeling less able to cope with everyday situations and minor stresses. One study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that subjects limited to 4.5 hours of sleep a night for just one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, and sad.[7] It is easy to see how this impact on emotions can put strain on a relationship, provoking more arguments and exacerbating conflict on a day-to-day basis.

Further, important regulatory hormones are also significantly impacted, which can have profound effects on a couple’s sexual health. Men with poor sleep patterns were found to have significantly lower levels of testosterone which can lead to reduced libido and reproductive health. [8] Similarly, sleep deficit is associated with reduced sexual arousal and desire in women. [9]

Lack of sleep can also often lead to a lack of self-care, which combined with an increased risk of weight gain and loss of sex drive could be enough to douse the fires of passion in any relationship, and increase strain. It is easy to see how challenging these factors could be to even the most stable of couples, having clear detrimental effects on the health of a relationship. 

Unlike the body, the mind remains very active during sleep, carrying out many important functions. Adequate sleep is therefore essential to every single process in the body including our immunity, hormone health, metabolism, mental health, and risk of chronic disease. A chronic lack of sleep can therefore be the catalyst for a multitude of changes in all aspects of health and wellbeing. 

“Starting a family does not have to be to the detriment of your relationship” 

How can new parents improve their relationship? 

The good news for parents and parents-to-be is that starting a family does not have to be to the detriment of your relationship. It is possible to establish sustainable sleep associations for children, leading to reduced nighttime wakes, and quality sleep of up to 12 hours a night, reliably. This is addressing the problem at its root cause – good sleep for the whole family has countless benefits for the household.

Undoubtedly new parenting can bring about immense challenges but it also provokes intense growth and revelation. Understanding pediatric sleep and educating parents on what is possible beyond the many modern misconceptions could ensure that new families around the world are healthier and happier and more rested than ever. 

The Rise of Family-Focused Benefits in the Workplace

With the increase in employee churn and focus on employee well-being, we explore the rise of family-planning benefits in the modern workplace. The cost, the controversy, and the alternatives. 

While many of the effects of COVID could be reasonably predicted, such as toilet paper shortages due to panic buying, “The Great Resignation” wasn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar. Many see the mass exodus of employees from their jobs as an indirect result of the COVID pandemic, when thousands of workers traded their current jobs for positions with better salary, flexibility and benefits. This prioritization of work-life balance has forced employers, large and small, to up their game by increasing wages and/or benefits to recruit and retain qualified employees. 

This prioritization of work-life balance has forced employers, large and small, to up their game.” 

Millennials, incidentally, now make up the largest segment of the workforce, many of which are in their prime child-bearing years. One of the employee benefits increasingly being offered to employees is in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments, a benefit that was once reserved only for elite Silicon Valley companies back in the 2010s. Recently, large private-sector companies such as IBM, JPMorgan, Microsoft and AT&T have joined the growing list of 800 companies estimated to provide the benefit. Some employers are additionally extending coverage to family-building services such as adoption and/or surrogacy, along with egg freezing and fertility treatments, to increase the diversity, equity and inclusion of their workforce and attract Millennials with benefits that reflect their values. Many are also waiving the requirement of an infertility diagnosis for IVF treatment to extend benefits to LGBTQ+ individuals.

IBM,  JPMorgan,  Microsoft,  and AT&T have joined the growing list of 800 companies estimated to provide [IVF treatments].” 

How much does all this cost? For individuals without insurance, egg freezing services can average about $16,000 in the United States, and a single round of IVF ranges, on average, between $15,000 and $30,000. On average, the lifetime cost of fertility benefits totals about $36,000. The out-of-pocket costs and deductibles for employees can vary greatly depending on their specific coverage, as hormone medication ($5,000) and storage costs ($2,000) of egg freezing, for example, can add up quickly if not covered. 

While this may be a hefty price tag for an individual paying out-of-pocket, the actual cost to employers offering the benefit is much lower. In fact, employers in some states are already legally required to cover fertility treatments depending on the size of the company and the type of health insurance the company provides.

The increase in fertility and family-building benefits isn’t without controversy, however.” 

The increase in fertility and family-building benefits isn’t without controversy, however. While these benefits can financially put parenthood within reach for many people that otherwise couldn’t afford the treatments to do so, there is some concern that egg freezing and other IVF treatment coverage promotes a culture that prioritizes work over family and blurs the boundaries between work and home life. Some employees may additionally feel indebted to their employer for the services they receive. Frozen egg storage and usage can also become complicated when employees change jobs. 

Despite any potential controversies, an estimated one in eight American couples have difficulty conceiving a child, making fertility and family-building coverage a relevant workplace benefit for the foreseeable future. Alternatively, many employees may value other benefits that facilitate a better work-life balance, rather than delaying a family through IVF. Benefits such as gender-neutral paid parental leave and childcare services can help employees with children establish better boundaries between work and home life, improving their efficiency and decreasing burnout. While fertility and family-building coverage benefits may be a good fit for some companies, alternative benefits can also promote the healthy work-life balance employees are seeking today.

Why does Batelle offer 6 years of sleep support?

Batelle is unique in its offering of support with sleep struggles until a child’s 6th birthday, completely included. This is a testament to not only our confidence in the Batelle program, but also to the importance of treating improving sleep as a long-term investment in your child’s health.

Children between the age of 4 months to 6 years go through approximately 5-10 sleep regressions. Without intervention, parents’ sleep quality suffers dramatically when their child is born, and generally doesn’t recover until around age 6.[1,2] Sleep training alleviates these problems significantly, and provides a solid framework to reset healthy sleep habits after a regression.

Why do these regressions happen? Not only are children continually learning new things, but their brains and bodies are also constantly changing. As their internal environment is in a constant state of flux, they rely on their external environment to provide a sense of stability. Environmental changes like a new school, a new sibling, or even an ear infection can be majorly disruptive for a child. They are still not fully able to self-regulate their emotions and may not understand what’s happening. [3] The first five years bring many of these disruptive changes, such as teething, decreasing the number and length of naps as the child grows older, moving from a crib to a bed, the possible onset of nightmares and night terrors around preschool age, among others.[4]

“Parents’ sleep quality suffers dramatically when their child is born, and generally doesn’t recover until around age 6.” 

Many of these disruptions manifest themselves as sleep problems, and for good reason. Asleep, in the dark, by themselves, a child is at their most vulnerable. If they’re already feeling uncertain or dysregulated because of their external environment, slipping into this vulnerable state may feel too scary. In this situation, their natural instinct is to seek reassurance from parents, the one constant within the child’s ever-changing world.

Though Batelle’s can accommodate the different stages of a child’s development, sometimes parents may need extra support if family circumstances have changed, a child’s tactics for resisting bedtime evolve in an unexpected way, or the root cause of the regression isn’t clear at first glance.[5]

“We are committed to providing a comprehensive solution, rather than a quick fix” 

If you need help with anything sleep related after you have graduated from Sleep School, you can reach out to the team free of charge until your child is six years old. We see this as a sleep “insurance” offered as part of the service.

Ultimately, sleep training is a lifelong investment in your child’s health, and we are committed to providing a comprehensive solution rather than a quick fix. With this in mind, we’ve developed our method to be resilient and sustainable, able to weather inevitable life changes. When sleep is approached with the consideration of a child’s underlying need to feel safe, the understanding and trust they build up is something they hold onto for the rest of their lives.

Sources:

  1. “Long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers” David Richter, Michael D Krämer, Nicole K Y Tang, Hawley E Montgomery-Downs, Sakari Lemola (2019). Sleep, Volume 42, Issue 4.
  2. Sleeping like a baby: Sleep in the first years of life.” 2018. The British Psychological Society
  3.  “Children and sleep”. 2022 Sleep Foundation
  4. “Sleep in Toddlers and Preschoolers” 2020. Cleveland Clinic.
  5. Helping children get a good night’s sleep. 2020 Abrams, Z. Monitor on Psychology51(5).