Family of Fathers

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Sleep is important for fathers

8 min read
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New fathers and those with younger children can struggle with sleep deprivation. This condition can affect their psychological wellbeing and impact daily functioning. We talk to a doctor about managing sleep cycles, and whether naps can be that bridge to help with sleep deprivation.

According to the Philips 2021 global sleep survey released to mark World Sleep Day, Singaporeans average 6.8 hrs of sleep per night. This is down from 7 hours in the 2020 survey.

Worry and stress rank as the top reason for Singaporeans’ lack of sleep (31 percent), as well as their sleeping environment (16 percent), and mobile devices such as phones and tablets (13 percent). Singaporeans that are kept awake by worry or stress say they worry most about their work responsibilities (58 percent), financial challenges (56 percent), family (32 percent), and their own/families’ health (30 percent).

The Sleep Foundation defines sleep deprivation as getting less than the needed amount of sleep, which, for adults, ranges from seven to nine hours. Sleep deprivation can significantly affect a father’s health, awareness and sense of safety, work performance as well as the general sense of well-being.

We had a discussion with Dr. Chua Chong Bing, a Family Physician from Healthway Medical (Lengkong Tiga) about managing sleep cycles, how to use naps to help, and also what the different types of naps are.

Family of Fathers (FoF): What are your observations about the sleep and energy cycles of fathers with children?

Dr. Chua: Parenting can be unpredictable, and sleep is often one of the first routines affected when having kids due to feeding and waking during the night. A 2012 study found that many fathers of newborns got less than six hours of sleep at night, much of this rest interrupted throughout the night. As a result, they experienced higher levels of fatigue that impacted their energy levels at the workplace.

As it’s important to let your partner rest, fathers of newborns now participate actively in night time care of babies, not just in the postpartum period, but also actively during the child’s toddler years, which can disrupt their ability to achieve full sleep cycles during the night.

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As a result, their energy capacity is spread across work responsibilities and co-parenting tasks, which can in turn lead to sleep deprivation. The challenge to balance work, caring for your children, and sleep can impact fathers of children of all ages.

Little can be done during the immediate postpartum period as the baby would usually wake every 3 hours for feeds. During this period, most fathers would be experiencing low energy levels, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Work performance drop, and they may start gaining weight.

Much of a parent’s sleep depends on the quality of sleep a child gets in the night. If the baby gets to sleep through the night, then mum and dad would also get a good night’s sleep. Hence the focus should be on cultivating good sleeping habits for your baby from a young age.

As baby slowly grows, the need for night time feeds will drop too extending their feed intervals. It is at this time where good sleeping habits should be inculcated.

FoF: How should they manage their sleep cycle in order to benefit from alertness and focus, especially if handling children?

Dr Chua: Proper sleep helps to improve our mood, sharpen our focus, reduce fatigue and lethargy, and keep us alert with increased motor performance. For those with young children, all of the above are critical to helping form positive relationships with our kids, as well as keep them safe.

Though achieving a regular routine of 6-8 hours of non-interrupted sleep may be impossible for many fathers, especially those with young children, fathers should still to their best to cultivate proper, healthy sleep habits in order to get the most out of their sleep:

  • Try to go to bed around the same time every night. Consistency makes all the difference when it comes to sleep cycles; aiming to fall asleep at the same time every evening can train your body to be ready for shut-eye (and conversely, wake itself up in the morning) if you stick to a routine. This may be difficult for new parents, but trying to stick to a routine gives us more structure in managing the situation.
  • It may be helpful to communicate with your partner on both your sleep schedules to ensure the best results while taking care of your children throughout the night. For instance, you can take turns for late night duties, or stagger your sleeping times.
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Stay away from devices 30-60 minutes before bed. Blue light emitted from our devices blocks melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy, so while watching some tv or scrolling on our phones may be a nice way to unwind after a long day, doing those activities too close to bedtime can lead to insomnia and shift your circadian rhythm.

Avoid taking caffeine in the afternoon/evening. While caffeine can provide a quick boost of energy, which may be quite tempting after a wakeful night tending to your child, having it mid-day can impact your nightly sleep cycle and disrupt your ability to fall asleep.

As a general rule, you should avoid drinking caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime, so that your body can metabolise at least half of your caffeine consumption (and avoid it after lunch altogether if you are quite caffeine-sensitive).

Understandably, a parent’s sleep may be dependent on the sleep quality of baby. If your baby gets a good night’s sleep, then both mum and dad will reap the rewards of healthy sleep. Here are some simple tips to inculcate good sleep habits in your children:

  • Try to inculcate a bedtime routine. As with adults, try to have a consistent and regular bedtime, but with an added “wind down” time with your child. This may include activities such as reading a book, brushing teeth, taking a bath and drinking milk. These routines should consistently start around 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
  • Create a conducive environment. The bedroom should be sufficiently dark, cool and comfortable, with minimal distracting noises or toys.
  • For young infants, swaddling and white noise machines may help your baby sleep longer.
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FoF: What is the importance of sleep for fathers?

Dr. Chua: For many fathers, sleep deprivation is a real problem that affects their psychological wellbeing and daily functioning. Sleep deprivation can not only affect physical and mental health, but also fathers’ relationships with their partner and children, as the lack of sleep can be a huge drain on our mental abilities and wellness, increase our blood pressure, and make us more irritable during the day.

For any parent who drives to and from work, sleep deprivation is especially dangerous, and should be avoided at all costs.

Additionally, being well-rested not only benefits our children and ourselves, but our partners as well. As we consider equal parenting environments, the role of healthy sleep cannot be understated as getting quality sleep helps us to communicate with our partners with more stable moods, lower stress levels, and a generally happier environment.

As a father myself, I cannot stress the importance of sleep enough. Waking up without having a good night’s sleep has caused me to be irritable in the daytime and I have had to resort to strong caffeinated drinks to perk myself up. Thankfully, with good sleep hygiene, my daughter has been able to sleep through most nights and these episodes of sleep deprivation have been kept to a minimum.

FoF: What are the different types of naps they can adopt and what should they avoid, especially in an equal parenting environment?

There are a variety of naps that you can take that provide a range of different benefits according to your needs. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Recovery nap. This is the most common type of nap where individuals take when they suffer from sleep deprivation the night before, either due to a late night or disrupted sleep from your newborn waking up every hour. By taking a recovery nap, otherwise known as a power nap, it can help in briefly making up for the sleep loss and recharging them for the rest of the day.
  • Prophylactic nap. This nap is often taken by individuals in preparation for sleep loss. Taking such naps before anticipated night shifts help in preventing sleepiness and ensuring that they stay alert during the night. This can particularly useful for fathers who have been ‘assigned’ the night time caregiving shift, however should not become part of daily routine as it can disrupt your sleep cycle.
  • Essential nap. This type of nap is typically for individuals who have fallen sick. While we care for our children and spouses, it is imperative that we look after our own health in the process. When we’re feeling under the weather, our body’s immune system requires greater energy to effectively fight against the virus and encourage recovery. Therefore, naps taken when we are sick can be considered essential.
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Here are some general ‘do nots’ that fathers should keep in mind to get the most out of their daytime naps:

  • Avoid long naps. Anything longer than a power nap can lead to sleep inertia (the post-sleep grogginess that lingers), which affects your ability to get back to your tasks, while also making it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • Avoid appetitive naps. Such naps are taken by individuals who enjoy the benefits of napping. If you are a nap lover, try to be aware of your nap habits and keep in mind your co-parenting duties, as too many appetitive naps may increase the burden of caretaking onto your partner.

FoF: What is the ideal day time nap in terms of timing, environment, duration and method of waking up?

Dr Chua: In general, the best naps happen before 3pm, are about 15-20 minutes long, and take place in a cool, dark, and quiet environment that is conducive for falling asleep.

If possible, try to keep your nap times during the days consistent as well. For instance, a daily 15 minute nap around 1pm in the same location. Healthy sleep habits depend on regularity and napping is no different.

By taking controlled naps of around 15-20 minutes, you can battle daytime fatigue while giving yourself a moment to relax and reset before returning to your desktop or your children. As a general rule of thumb, you should not nap for more than 30 minutes as this can result in grogginess and sleep inertia upon waking.

If your child is sleeping nearby and you’re concerned about the sound of an alarm waking them up, try a vibrating alarm setting to gently buzz you awake.


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