A good night's sleep is often regarded as the key to happiness and wellbeing. But new research suggests its value can be outweighed by the one thing sure to prevent it: being a parent of young children.

Parents of toddlers may be surprised to learn that even if they are only snatching a couple of hours of sleep each night, they are still much happier than their childless counterparts.

Figures produced by the National Centre for Social Research suggest that even when disrupted sleep is taken into account, parents of young children are happier than non-parents — or those with school-age children.

The research involving 8000 people found that a good night's sleep has the most overall impact on general wellbeing. But other factors, including having young children, also make people happier.

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Having a child under 5 years old adds 3.3 points to a person's happiness score, when all other issues are controlled for.

The index gives people a score out of 100, with the average non-parent scoring 62.2, while a parent of a child under 5 scores 65.5.

Parents are half as likely to get a good night's sleep "most of the time" than those with no children.

And while the impact on sleep for those with older children is less, the positive effect on their wellbeing is also lower — meaning the overall benefit of having young children outweighs the poorer sleep.

The wellbeing score of parents with children under 5 drops to 63.7, while that of parents of older children falls to 62.6. But both scores are still higher than the non-parent score of 62.2.

The positive effect of having a child is felt most keenly by young parents, possibly because their children are also likely to be younger.

Those aged between 18 and 34 have the maximum 3.3 point increase if they have a child of any age while those aged 35-54 with children see only a 1.6 point increase.

For over-55s the benefit disappears entirely.

And parents might be surprised to learn that having children has no discernible link with higher anxiety.

The study developed by researchers Oxford Economics and commissioned by supermarket Sainsbury's, interviews respondents every six months about life satisfaction, happiness and anxiety levels.

- Telegraph Group Ltd