Med thumb  lonemom

A lot of American adults don’t get their recommended seven-to-eight hours of rest. We know this anecdotally. Take a shot every time a coworker yawns and laments their inability to drift off, and you’ll be trashed by lunch. But it seems that one demographic has accumulated a larger sleep debt from the rest of us: single moms.

Yesterday, the CDC published a sleep-health report based on its 2013-2014 National Health Interview Survey. The analysis focused specifically on American adults’ sleep habits (duration and quality) and use of sleep medication. Single parents (moms, dads, moppas and the like) were more likely than both adults in two-parent households and childless adults to get insufficient sleep (less than 7 hours per night), and have trouble falling and staying asleep. They also wake up feeling poorly rested.

But, lone moms struggled with shuteye the most — 44 percent of them (with children under 18) didn’t hit their #hardseven, as compared to 38 percent of single fathers and roughly thirty percent of adults who weren’t single parents.  

It’s not exactly surprising that single mothers are facing the worst dozing demons. The U.S. is home to 12 million single-parent families, 80 percent of which are headed by women.

And even as national unemployment rates have fallen over the past five years, joblessness has remained a scourge on single moms. Forty percent of single-mother families (that’s 4.1 million) live in poverty, according to the latest Census data. With families to feed and care for, and little time and money at their disposal, it’s no wonder single mothers aren’t accustomed to sleeping like champs.

The report did highlight two less predictable findings:

  • Among both adults in two-parent households and without children, men were more likely to get too little sleep.
  • Adults in two-parent families were the least likely to take sleeping medication (based on whether they’d taken sleeping medications more than four times within the past week). Who was most likely to invoke pharmaceutical help in hitting the sack? Women without children (10 percent) and single mothers (eight percent).

It’s hard to know what to make of these figures. While sleep duration and sleep quality are related, they may not be linked in all cases. Presumably, people take sleep medication because they can’t sleep, not because they don’t have time for a full night of rest. Adults in two-parent families were least likely to pop pills. Perhaps parents who share share child-care and financial responsibilities feel less stressed than single parents, and have an easier time sleeping, even if they don’t get enough sleep. Or, perhaps childless women are most likely to take sleeping pills because they aren’t concerned with sleeping through parenting emergencies.

We could speculate all day. Numbers don’t tell us why; they make us ask it. And they illuminate trends to explore. The relationship between parenting roles, sleep habits and medication use is one worth probing.