Gender differences in sleep interruptions `revealed`

Washington: A new study has confirmed what working mothers have long been claiming that they are more likely than working fathers to get up at night to take care of their babies.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that women are two-and-a-half times more likely than working fathers to interrupt their sleep, and, moreover, their sleep
interruptions last longer - average of 44 minutes as compared to 30 minutes for men.

"Interrupted sleep is burden borne disproportionately by women. And this burden may not only affect the health and well being of women, but also contribute to continuing gender inequality in earnings and career advancement," said lead researcher Sarah Burgard.

For the study, the researchers analysed data from approximately 20,000 working parents from 2003 to 2007, drawn from the US Census Bureau`s American Time Use Survey.

The gender gap in sleep interruptions was greatest during the prime childbearing and child-rearing years of the twenties and thirties, the findings, to be published in the `Social Forces` journal, revealed.

Among dual-career couples with a child under the age of one, 32 percent of women reported sleep interruptions to take care of the baby, compared with just 11 percent of men.

The proportion reporting interrupted sleep declined with the age of the child, with 10 percent of working mothers and 2 percent of working fathers with children ages 1 to 2 reporting sleep interruptions, and 3 percent of working moms and 1 percent of working fathers with children ages 3 to 5.

"What is really surprising is that gender differences in night-time caregiving remain even after adjusting for the employment status, income and education levels of each parent.

"Among parents of infants who are the sole breadwinner in a couple, for example, 28 percent of women who are the sole breadwinner report getting up at night to take care of their children, compared to just 4 percent of men who are the only earner in the couple," Burgard said.

In related research, Burgard and colleagues found that women get slightly more sleep compared to men. But getting about 15 minutes more total sleep a day may or may not compensate for the greater sleep interruptions women face.

"Women face greater fragmentation and lower quality of sleep at a crucial stage in their careers. The prime child bearing years are also the time when earnings trajectories are being established, and career advancement opportunities could well be foregone if women reduce their paid work time or see their workplace performance affected because of exhaustion.

"As a result, sleep interruption may represent an under-recognised `motherhood penalty` that influences life chances and well being," Burgard said.