We have all heard the term “sleep like a baby”, which is supposed to mean sleeping peacefully. Parents know the irony of this term! But what might it mean to “sleep like a dad”?
And does it really matter?
The Australian Fatherhood Research Consortium thinks so. For the last year and a half, the researchers, clinicians and advocates at AFRC have been working on getting a snapshot of sleep in fathers, especially dads of babies and young kids. If you sleep like a dad, how do you go at work? And at home?
We know sleep deprivation affects performance of tasks, akin to drink-driving, if severe enough. We know that it’s been used as a form of torture – continuous prevention of sleep can place the brain and body under acute stress to the point of hallucinations and medical crisis. Disruptions to sleep can also be an indicator of other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Serious stuff.
At the same time, getting hung up on how much sleep you’re getting can be unhelpful. Sleep affects your wellbeing, sure, but wellbeing affects sleep too – it’s a two-way street. Working on your stress levels and healthy habits can improve your chances of quality sleep. In households where everyone affects everyone else, it can be hard to work out the chicken and the egg with sleep and stress, but usually working on both is wise.
That’s all pretty sensible, and it’s likely many mums of babies and young kids will have conversations like this with their support network, be that a fellow mum, workmate, family member, family doctor or community nurse. New mums are nowadays expected to struggle with sleep, and with improvements in non-judgemental approaches to maternal wellbeing in those early years, it’s now more likely than in the past, that a mum will ask for help while sleep-deprived.
But do sleep-deprived dads feel the same public acknowledgement and encouragement to seek help? How bad do they have it anyway? And how does it affect their role as a father and partner?
That’s what the AFRC wants to find out, for two great reasons.
The first reason is that sleep and mental health are clearly connected, and mental health of fathers is very much a sleeper issue we are only starting to wake up to. While 1 in 7 mums suffers with perinatal depression and anxiety, the figure may be as high as 1 in 10 new dads. Unlike mums, these dads won’t be screened universally, and are less likely to seek help off their own bat. Families suffer when dads suffer, mums very much included. So it benefits everyone to work on improving dads’ mental health.
The second reason for the AFRC’s interest in dads’ sleep, is that dads are probably more comfortable talking about sleep than about mental health. You can ask a dad at a barbecue how much sleep he’s been getting – it’s a conversation starter. Simply asking “How’s your sleep?” could also be a foot-in-the-door for a dad’s support people (eg. partner, friends, workmates, GP, child health nurse) to find out what’s keeping him up at night.
And these are conversations we need to have. If you’re a dad, or know someone who is, the AFRC wants to know: how’s it going? How’s your sleep? Does lack of sleep affect your jobs at work and home? What about your relationships? How do you cope with lack of sleep? How could things be better?
Join the twitter conversation this Sleep Awareness Week 1-7 Oct 2018 – twitter.com/ausfatherhood
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