Sleep Disturbances in Children Can Increase Risk of Parental Depression

A large percentage of children experience sleep problems at some point during their childhoods. Many of them have difficulty falling asleep while others have difficulty staying asleep. In fact, research has shown that almost one half of elementary school-aged children will have an episode of sleep disruption that can last for as long as 6 months. This is significant, as sleep problems can negatively affect many areas of a child’s life, including their academic performance, behavior, and family functioning. This negative aspect of impaired sleep can also have a contagious effect for parents. In fact, evidence suggests that parents of sleep-impaired children are at increased risk for stress, depression, and anxiety. When parents exhibit symptoms of mental problems, they cannot parent at their maximum potential, This, in turn, creates a cycle of negative parenting which can increase stress and anxiety in children, leading to impaired sleep and poor parental well-being.

Kristy Moore of the Krongold Centre at Monash University in Australia wanted to find out how strong the association was between child sleep impairment and parental depression. She theorized that if stressors that lead to parental depression could be isolated, clinicians could develop interventions targeting those stressors. Therefore, Moore evaluated 145 parents of elementary school children to determine if sleep impairment was indeed a stressor that predicted depression. She found that depressed parents had high levels of stress, and that parental stress increased sleep problems in children. Further, these sleep problems also increased symptoms of parental depression.

Moore also looked at the temperament of the child as a risk factor for depression and found that children that had difficult temperaments were more likely to have depressed parents than children with more mild temperaments. Low approachability in children with difficult temperaments strengthened the risk for depression in parents. Moore believes that clinicians working with parents with mood issues should ask about the sleep patterns of their children. “Early identification of child sleep disturbances may then be treated, thus reducing the risk of the parent developing increased depressive symptomatology,” said Moore.

Moore, Kristy, Jocelynne Gordon, and Louise McLean. Child sleep problems and parental depression: Testing a risk. Journal of Child and Family Studies 21.6 (2012): 982-91. Print.

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  • JoEllen


    January 12th, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    I never taught my son to be a good sleeper as a child because at the time I was so young and didn’t realize that that was actually part of my job as a parent. It is our responsibility to initiate good solid sleep patterns in our kids, and this is something that I never did. he never had much of a schedule because at the time I just always kind of felt like that would cramp my own style too much. I know, selfish selfish. But that’s the way it was. And there was a time when I was so frustrated with it all that I didn’t know how I could go through one more night of him not sleeping. He finally got it but not until he was much older and I was much worn out.

  • Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D.

    Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D.

    January 12th, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    I am a child psychotherapist. Of course one reason children have trouble sleeping is that they have bad dreams. One of the least productive responses, but one that parents are often told to make is to tell children that dreams are not “real” and to show them there is nothing under the bed or in the closet. But telling children that their bad dreams aren’t “really” scary just keeps children running into their parents’ bedroom night after night. Helping children to realize that “dreams are stories we tell ourselves for a reason” and helping them understand that the reason lies with “unfinished business” from the day before will empower children to make sense of their own dreams and put themselves back to bed without having to awaken their parents. I have written a children’s picture book for ages 3 and up, Mommy, Daddy, I Had a Bad Dream! to help children and parents respond constructively to children’s bad dreams. Joey, a bouncy kangaroo has a series of bad dreams which his parents lovingly help him to understand until, by the last one, he is able to understand why he had it and to go back to bed feeling comforted and in charge.

  • peter


    January 12th, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    sleep disturbances in children can really stress a parent out..I’m currently going through this with my 20 month old daughter and it is causing stress to both me and my wife..I do understand that us being stressed may in turn affect my daughter,but I just don know where to put a stop.children seem to have changes in behavior and sleep patterns with no apparent reasons,just don’t know where to start..

  • ricardo


    January 13th, 2013 at 4:50 AM

    None of us will ever be our best without a good night’s rest!

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