According to a new study, women start losing sleep relative to men when they're breastfeeding — and they never catch up. Could this be a hidden factor behind the wage gap?
The Washington Post reports on the study, in which working parents kept diaries of their sleep between 2003 and 2007. The result: women were two and a half times more likely to get up in the middle of the night to take care of children or other relatives. Among moms with kids under 1, 32% reported getting up during a given night, compared with 11% of dads. And when the kids got older — between 3 and 5 — the figure was 3% for moms and 1% for dads. Says study author Sarah Burgard, "Obviously, the child-rearing responsibilities maybe slanted at first due to breast-feeding, [but] then the responsibilities are never renegotiated."
The study also found that sleep disturbances were worst during parents' twenties and thirties, which are often major professional development years. That's a problem, says Burgard: "Poor sleep quality manifests quickly: You're unable to focus. . . . It's a real limitation." Anybody who's tried to work while sleep-deprived, whether by child-care or something else, knows that being tired can sap not just focus but motivation — it's hard to do your best when all you want to do is crash. And while the percentage of women awakened per night isn't huge once kids reach the age of 3, those numbers add up over time — and it's possible that women could be losing out in the workplace in part because of lack of sleep.
Obviously women's sleep disadvantage doesn't wholly explain the wage gap — it may not even explain any of it. But sleep deprivation is one more way that working women's "second shift" bleeds into the first one. "Renegotiating" the responsibilities of childcare so that moms and dads are more equal is important for lots of reasons — but helping moms keep their eyes open at work is another one to consider.
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