Many Aussie dads suffering ‘pathological sleep deprivation’ and ‘clinical insomnia’

Many Australian dads are suffering “pathological sleep deprivation” according to a new comprehensive review of sleep, mental health and wellbeing among new dads.

The review found substantial sleep disruption and sleep complaints among new dads, which can go unrecognised by professionals and impact fathers’ mental health, relationships and workplace safety.

Dr Karen Wynter from Deakin’s School of Nursing and Midwifery said sleep deprivation and fatigue was clearly interfering with fathers’ psychological wellbeing and daily functioning.

The review included 30 studies from a number of universities.

She said the level of sleep deprivation was “quite concerning”.

“Most fathers are in the clinical range for what doctors would describe as pathological sleep deprivation,” Dr Wynter said.“Looking at average time spent in bed versus time spent sleeping, studies have even shown that many fathers are in the range for what would be considered a clinical level of insomnia.

“When people are sleep deprived to that degree, their functioning and safety is quite heavily impacted. There’s a real safety implication here for fathers, particularly as we’ve seen this can impact their safety procedures at work and their psychological wellbeing.”

Dr Wynter, a founding member of the Australian Fatherhood Research Consortium, said there was a “significant association” between fatigue and mental health issues as well as some serious implications for relationships.“The more fatigued the father, the poorer the relationship with their partner,” she said.

“Sleep deprivation and fatigue have been shown to lead to poor impulse control, including becoming angry and easily irritable. A big gap in the research at the moment is the impact that poor sleep could have on the relationship between the father and the child, which needs to be explored further.”

The results show a need for health professionals to include a father’s sleep concerns in their assessments of family needs and treatment plans, Dr Wynter said.

“Nobody is actually checking in with the fathers at the moment,” she said.

“There’s a need for better screening tools, and health professionals need to check in with the father as well as the mother. They have the perfect opportunity to do this when fathers are available at consultations with their partners and infants.

“Fathers might not respond to questions regarding their mental health or emotional state, as they can experience this stress in different ways. Checking in could be as simple as asking how they’re sleeping. Once these problems have been identified, there are programs we can use to address the root causes, first and foremost through programs to help if the infant is unsettled.”