It's common sense that having twin babies in the house means double feeding, diaper changing and cuddling.
This brings up the question about how much sleep parents of twins get between all the double duties of caring for the new arrivals. Getting a good night's rest for parents of twins is under study by Elizabeth Damato, an assistant professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University.
Damato's research will provide some of the first scientific evidence about the sleep patterns of parents of twins in the three-month postpartum period following the births when parents experience the most adjustments to life with the new babies. Many twins also are born premature and require additional vigilance in their care.
She will also be following parents for three months to gather information about their sleep quality, level of fatigue and mood to see if there are changes over time.
Sleep deprivation can bring on symptoms that mimic depression and potentially impact how parents interact with their babies. Prior studies have shown that fatigue can lead to depression, and some 29-42 percent of mothers with twins report depression.
This information will become increasingly important as the number of parents experiencing twin births has risen 70 percent since 1980 due to fertility drugs and parents waiting until they are older to have children.
Just how well moms and dads are sleeping will be tracked by wearing special actigraph wrist monitors. These tracking tools look like watches but are equipped with a computer chip that records arm motion, which is an indicator of wakefulness. Information from the actigraph is downloaded in a graph form and can calculate minutes of sleep over time. Along with these monitors, parents provide other information by keeping sleep diaries and completing surveys to gather information on sleep quality, fatigue, and mood.
Recently Damato presented early findings of data from 14 moms at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Baltimore and spoke about the information they provided shortly after the birth of their babies and then at eight weeks.
Damato found moms are getting an average of 5.4 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period through an average of 15 sleep episodes that last about 22 minutes each in the first month home from the hospital. Their sleep deprivation lessened slightly at about eight weeks when sleep increased to 5.6 hours in longer sleep episodes, which lasted an average of 31.8 minutes. Moms reported that sleep quality had improved as the babies got older.
This is two hours less than moms and dads with a single newborn in the house get in a 24-hour period.
While Damato didn't present the father's side of the study at the meeting, she is also finding that fathers, like mothers, are battling fatigue and falling into the range of sleep deprivation by getting less than six hours daily. In an earlier study, the researcher found that dads, who had taken time off from work and pitched in when moms came home from the hospital to give them a chance to recover from their pregnancies and deliveries, also were sleep deprived. This sleep deprivation continued after they returned to work by relieving moms after work and getting up at night to attend to the babies, said Damato.
Eventually Damato will study 85 mothers and fathers, whose twins were born at 33 weeks or longer who don't have pre-existing conditions for poor sleep. Her study, supported by a two-year, $150,000 National Institute of Health grant, is a pilot study to lay the groundwork for further studies on how parents with twins may be helped to physically and mentally adjust to having new babies in their lives.
Working with Damato are undergraduate students Lauren Flaherty, Elise Wiesenthal and Jessica Vida and doctoral student Jennifer Brubaker. These students are monitoring twin births at Cleveland area hospitals to recruit parents for the research project. Recent Case Western Reserve graduates Kelly Goris and Kenya Hightower have contributed to the project.
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