Mama works hard, so let her sleep!

Asleep on the job

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: There is still time if you haven't figured out what to do yet for Mother's Day. And when I say time, I mean that in the most literal sense. Working moms nowadays are doing more than ever and losing sleep over it.

From WBHM in Birmingham, Ala., Tanya Ott explains.


Tanya Ott: So, it's pretty ironic that I'm doing this story. On Wednesday, I worked a 20-hour day covering the Gulf oil spill. But it turns out there are lots of moms like me who work long hours, often outside the normal eight to five.

Ott: Hello!

Jennifer Kelley: Good morning. Can we say hi?

It's 6:30 in the morning and Jennifer Kelley has already been up for hours with her baby.

Kelley: Ava Claire started our day off at 4:45 this morning. Say, "I woke up and I was ready to eat!" And then Davis woke up shortly after at five. So we've been getting ready for school, packing bottles, packing lunches, getting mommy dressed, getting ready for work...

Two-year-old Davis is dressed and just needs help buckling his sandals.

Davis: Mama, shoes.

Kelley: Mmhmm. What color are your shoes?

Then it's off to school for the kids and work for mom. Kelley works 12-hour days and is on call most nights and weekends. A study from the Sloan Work and Family Research Network finds that more women are working extra-long shifts and nights. And those night workers report getting, on average, 45 minutes less sleep than daytime workers. Kelley says she gets just four hours of sleep a night.

Kelley: But it's not a point where I feel like I can't function. I just don't think my body requires much of it.

Mary Umlauf: In America, we really undermine the value of sleep. We can probably blame it on Benjamin Franklin, you know, "early to rise."

Mary Umlauf is a sleep researcher at the University of Alabama.

Umlauf: I've always read that, you know, you can get an extra hour of productivity by simply getting up earlier. What that does is you just shave off what is actually, physiologically required for you.

A study released this week in the journal "Sleep" examines the sleep patterns of more than a million people around the world. Researchers found that people who get less than six hours of sleep a night are 12 percent more likely to die prematurely. And short of death, there's a whole host of other problems, says Mary Umlauf.

Umlauf: Lack of sleep is statistically associated with cancer, obesity -- any number of chronic health issues which are really plaguing our society.

Umlauf says most people need seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Jennifer Kelley -- that mom we heard from earlier -- she knows this way too well. She's the nurse manager of the mother-baby unit at the University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital.

Kelley: So, in here we've got little babies that we are watching, because mama needed some rest or...

Kelley says she tells new moms to get as much sleep as they can, but she admits she doesn't really take her own advice.

Me either. So kids, I have just one request this Mother's Day. I love breakfast in bed, but please, not before 9 a.m.

In Birmingham, I'm Tanya Ott for Marketplace.

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