Parents, Children, Sleep, and Mental Health

Every parent or guardian has experienced a lack of sleep in their child-rearing journey.  Unfortunately, however, your child’s sleep difficulties may be leading to depression and self-doubt.  You may question your parenting skills, not to mention your ability to solve problems and help yourself and your child.  New research published in a new paper by nursing professor, Wendy Hall, a sleep expert at UBC, notes that this problem can be solved and you can turn the situation around.

In an interview with Professor Hall, she talked about the associations between infant sleep and parental sanity.  She goes on to offer several recommendations for how parents can move forward to help both their baby and themselves.

Professor Hall focused specifically on the mental health of parents for this study.  She did this because there is already plenty of research about the affect sleep has on growth and development in children.  Scientists also have a good understanding of how depressive parents can negatively impact their child’s development and their parent-baby bond.  However, science knows very little about how a child’s sleep loss can affect their parent’s mental health.  This study is the first to look closely at this factor.

The research was done in British Columbia, where scientists recruited 253 families with babies who were having difficulty sleeping.  Parents with pre-diagnosed clinical depression were excluded.

Each family was placed into one of two groups.  The first group received support from public health nurses, as well as sleep intervention with general education about infant sleep difficulties and how to solve infant sleep problems.  The second group of families received information packets about basic infant safety.  Parent depression scores were rated at the beginning and then again six and 24 weeks after the start of the study.

After adjusting for parental fatigue and poor sleep, Professor Hall and her team found that there was a link between parental depression and their thoughts about their baby’s sleep.  Essentially, both mothers and fathers who were worried about not being able to help and manage their infant’s sleep had higher levels of depression.

Post intervention, the depression and sleep improved, especially at the 24-week mark.  Once the baby’s sleep problem was addressed and treated, their parent’s depression was significantly relieved.  Nearly 30% of mothers and 20% of fathers had lower levels of depression after intervention.

This has some serious implications for health care professionals and parents.  The research indicates that health care providers need to pay closer attention to what parents of young infants are saying about sleep habits and learn to recognize signs of parental depression linked with doubts about their ability to parent and help their child.  Providers need to be able to tell the difference between normal parental fatigue and dangerous mental health risks.

Additionally, this research outlines how proper sleep intervention can help both the parent and the infant.  Finding ways to regulate infant sleep will empower parents and give their self-confidence a much-needed boost.  Parents must first have an in-depth conversation with their health care provider, but if that is not possible, the University of British Columbia have posted several public talks on YouTube that would help parents understand infant sleep.



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