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The study of sleep has been neglected within sociology, yet may provide insights into fundamental aspects of the nature of gender inequalities. This article examines how, for couples with children, sleep is influenced by the gendered nature of caring. A key concern is not only who gets up to care for children's physical needs at night, but whether this changes with women's increased role in the labour market. Of concern also is how changes in the nature of caring for older children, as opposed to young children, may impact on parents' sleep. This article analyses qualitative data from an ESRC funded multi-disciplinary project on couples' sleep based on in-depth audio-tape recorded interviews with 26 couples (aged 20-59) with younger and older children. Additionally, one week's audio sleep diaries were completed and follow up in-depth interviews were undertaken with each partner on an individual basis. Physical and emotional care for young children at night was largely provided by women, with a lack of explicit negotiation between partners about who provides this care, even when women return to employment. Thus, considerably more women than men continued their daytime and evening shifts, as well as undertaking an ongoing third shift of sentient activity for their family, into the night. This resulted in a fourth night-time shift where physical caring, and sentient activities continued. As a consequence, women were more likely to subjugate their own sleep needs to those of their family. Fathers did not, in general, undertake this fourth night-time shift. Those that did were more likely to be the fathers of young adult children who were staying out late at night, with the focus of their concerns being the safety of their children. © London School of Economics and Political Science 2008.

Original publication




Journal article


British Journal of Sociology

Publication Date





79 - 97