Poor sleep in infancy linked to behavioural issues
London: Researchers have found that disrupted and poor quality sleep in the earliest months of a child’s life can be an indicator of depression, anxiety and behavioural problems among toddlers.
The study, published in the journal BMJ Paediatrics Open, found a clear relationship between sleep problems in infancy such as frequent night wakings, short sleep duration or difficulty in falling asleep and particular emotional and behavioural problems at 24 months of age.
Although childhood sleep problems are extremely common and their association with daytime behavioural difficulties is well recognised, this study shows for the first time how sleep problems in infancy and very early childhood are associated with emotional and behavioural problems later in childhood.
“Our results show that infants who sleep for shorter periods of time, take longer to fall asleep and wake up more frequently during the night are more likely to show emotional and behavioural problems in later stages of childhood,” said lead researcher Isabel Morales-Munoz from the University of Birmingham in the UK.
“It’s likely that sleep quality in these early months and the development of self-regulation – the ability to control our behaviour – are closely intertwined,” Morales-Munoz added.
For the findings, the research team studied the results of two sleep questionnaires completed by parents within the CHILD-SLEEP birth-cohort, a large study cohort based in southern Finland.
For this specific study, the researchers obtained information from nearly 1700 parents who completed a baseline questionnaire and reported on the sleep habits of their children at 3, 8, 18 and 24 months.
These results were compared with a separate questionnaire on emotional and behavioral symptoms, which was completed by 950 parents at the child´s age of 24 months.
The researchers found that high frequency of night wakings at 3 months was strongly linked to emotional, behavioural and self-regulation (the ability to control emotions and behaviours) problems in toddlers.
Further, infants who experienced shorter sleep duration, who took longer to fall asleep and who experienced frequent night wakings at different stages of early childhood were likely to find problems in regulating their behaviour and emotions at the age of 24 months, leading to disrupting emotions and behaviours, such as temper tantrums.
The study contributes to recent research on the role of early sleep problems in socio-emotional development.
The research suggests that infant sleep problems may be due to a variety of mechanisms, including genetic and environmental factors.
“Environmental factors, such as sleeping practices in the family, parental reactions to crying and parental stress also play an important part in a child’s sleep and socioemotional development,” Morales-Munoz added.