Can’t Sleep? Blame the Patriarchy

It’s been nearly two weeks since we changed the clocks in our household for Daylight Saving Time and we are still not over it. No one wants to go to bed on time. No one wants to get up in the dark. Hey Congress, the kids want their hour back! It is times like this I am thankful that at least most of the time, we are a household that sleeps.

You get lots of advice about sleeping before you have kids, but you rarely take it seriously. You think to yourself, “Oh, I pulled all-nighters in college all the time. I’ll be fine.” I wasn’t fine. I ran a red light on the way to my six-week post-baby checkup and I barely noticed. My doctor told me that you cannot operate on less than five hours of sleep for several days in a row without it affecting your capacity to function. “Believe me,” she said, “I’ve been a medical student.”

But what was I supposed to do with that information? It wasn’t until I ran into a friend with older kids that I heard the secret. “Naomi,” she said, “if you say the Rileys sleep between twelve a.m. and five a.m., the Rileys will sleep between twelve a.m. and five a.m.” It never occurred to me that during my daughter’s infancy, I could start making rules. I thought that started around age three. I have no particular advice about which sleep training method works—simply that you must find one that works and find it fast. Life is not going to stop just because you stop sleeping.

Fathers, apparently, have figured this out. I say this because a new study of 5,800 adults finds that women with children are perpetually sleep deprived, but men are not. “Forty-eight percent of women with children reported at least seven hours of sleep, compared to sixty-two percent of women without children,” according to study leader Kelly Sullivan, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University. “For men, we did basically the same analysis and children had absolutely no impact on men [and their sleep].”

Of course, women will roll their eyes. Men are slacking off again.

But one reason for this sleep inequality is probably that fathers generally have to go back to jobs outside the home and they have to go back more quickly than women do after a child is born. There are only so many weeks they can sleepwalk through their professional lives. And those jobs start at the same time every morning regardless of whether the baby was up at four and didn’t go back to sleep until eight.

It is also that fathers may be more able to make up for sleep at other times. As a blogger for The Stir writes, “How many times have you seen a dad doze off while sitting upright on a couch in the middle of a light saber duel that any mom knows will end in either crying, broken glass, or both? My husband could snore his way through a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s and never think twice about it.”

The implication here seems to be that it is father’s laziness or their lack of concern about their children’s safety that allows them to sleep more than moms. It may be true that dads are perfectly happy to let kids have a light saber duel without close supervision. Or maybe they’re a little more inclined to let a baby cry it out in the hopes that children will end up on a decent sleep schedule. But rather than criticize them for this, maybe mothers should instead follow their lead. Not only will this allow women to have some much-needed sleep, but it will also discourage them from seeing themselves as victims—either of their young children, their husbands, or Daylight Saving Time.

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