Sleep plays an important role in healthy psychological and physical development. Children need adequate sleep to perform at their best cognitively, behaviorally, and emotionally. Research has shown that children who have sleep disturbances tend experience impaired functioning. Additionally, there is evidence that maternal depression and anxiety can create inadequate sleep patterns in young children, further limiting their ability to function optimally. Until recently, the effect of parental emotional health has been studied primarily through the lens of the mother. To get a better idea of how both parents affect the sleep of young children, Annie Bernier of the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal recently led a study that looked at several aspects of parental functioning in both mothers and fathers, and assessed how these levels affected the quality of sleep in their toddlers.
Bernier recruited 85 families with toddlers and assessed the parents for levels of marital satisfaction, parenting stress, social support, and socioeconomic status. The mothers also recorded their children’s sleep patterns at 15 months old, 18 months, and 2 years. After analyzing the data, Bernier found that the levels of all four indices directly impacted the sleep quality of the children, but paternal stress and relationship satisfaction had a significant effect on sleep patterns when the children were 2. Low levels of social support as perceived by the mother, as well as low socioeconomic status, also impaired sleep quite dramatically. In contrast, parents who reported being satisfied and supported in their relationships had less stress and had children who slept better.
Although these results extend the existing research on the relationship between parental functioning and children’s sleep, several factors need to be explored further. First, is the direction of low parental stress and high sleep quality in children bidirectional? Second, the indices of parental stress, marital satisfaction, and social support were not fully dissected to determine how anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems contributed to the findings. “Nonetheless, the current pattern of findings supports existing intervention programs that target parental psychological functioning and parenting behavior with the aim of impacting child outcomes,” Bernier said.
Bernier, A., Bélanger, M.-È., Bordeleau, S., Carrier, J. (2012). Mothers, fathers, and toddlers: Parental psychosocial functioning as a context for young children’s sleep. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030024
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