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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