Sep 20

How emotional labour is impacting your sleep – By Dr Kat Lederle, Women’s Sleep Coach

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Becoming a mum brings about big (and small) changes to your daily life. And your night-time too. There are many physiological and psychological changes taking place during pregnancy which affect sleep. Many women struggle particularly during the first and third trimester while some women sleep relatively well during the second.

Once the baby is born, many mothers continue to experience poor sleep due to nursing the baby. And while there is some improvement in sleep quality in the months after birth, a recent study looking at heterosexual couples showed that sleep disruption can persist for at least 6 years. The same study also showed that while fathers’ sleep satisfaction is reduced too, this is much less so compared to the mothers. The authors speculate that this is down to the mother shouldering more of the childcare responsibilities and housekeeping tasks than fathers. Worse still, this is the case even if the mum is also working.

I think it is important to note that many couples attempt to divide family and
household tasks in an even way. But gender norms, the gender pay gap, and
societal expectations often get in the way. A mum might also have high expectations of herself, thinking she should be able to do everything for everyone, keep everyone happy and never stop smiling as she does it. All these beliefs and traditions lead to is that from a physical labour perspective mothers end up taking on more than their fair share of the chores. Compounding this is the emotional labour associated with looking after a family, with wanting to keep everyone else happy and be a ‘good mum’ that many women can feel.

Before I go on, let me explain what constitutes emotional labour: This is the act of managing one's own emotions to meet the emotional demands of a job. For mums, who are often the primary caregiver, this can include things like dealing with difficult children, managing conflict with their partner or other family members, and providing emotional support to others.

Sounds taxing? Well, that’s because it is. And while it is also exhausting, it often gets in the way of a good night’s sleep. Research found that women who reported high levels of emotional labour were more likely to have sleep problems than women who reported low levels of emotional labour.

And then there is the cognitive labour. This is all the organising, planning, preparing mums do.

Sounds tiresome? Yes, it is. And yes, you guessed right (and have probably
experienced it first-hand), cognitive labour has a negative impact on sleep too.

Research found that women who reported high levels of cognitive labour were more likely to have sleep problems than women who reported low levels of cognitive labour.

Cognitive and emotional labour take up a lot of time, energy and thinking. A big part of this thinking happens when you go to bed, and instead of slipping into peaceful slumber you find yourself lying there running through the ‘to dos’ of tomorrow and worrying how everyone will feel.

But – and this is a big but – you have to make it into bed first of all! Childcare, chores, and work fill up all of your day, and probably most of your evening too. Once the kids are in bed there is still plenty to do for mums to be ready for the next day.

Unfortunately, for many mums doing (or perhaps it is more apt to say having to do) these tasks will eat into their sleep time – by delaying their bedtime. What doesn’t change is their wake-up time though. The resulting night is short and often of poor quality. Not a great start into the next day.

The good news is that there are several things you can do to improve your situation!

  • Set boundaries. Learn to say no to extra work or commitments that will only
    add to your responsibilities and stress levels.
  • Delegate tasks. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family, or friends.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods will give you the energy you need to
    cope with stress and stay focused.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve
    your sleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most
    days of the week.
  • And then … have regular sleep times. That is one of the most important and
    yet difficult ones for most people including mums. I have deliberately put it last
    on this list of suggestions because for you to feel that you can go to bed at the
    time that your body clock wants you to you need to know that all is done for
    today. And to help you with the latter I suggest implementing the other steps

Final thought: Remember, you are not alone. Many women – with or without children- experience sleep problems. By taking steps to manage your stress, and set boundaries, you can look after your sleep, and your mental and physical health too.

If you are struggling with sleep and finding it hard to figure out where to start to improve your sleep, check out my website or book a free call with me so we can have a chat. They can help you to develop coping strategies and develop a plan to improve your sleep.