How Parents Can Stay Sane When Baby Can't Sleep

New research finds that a child’s sleep problems may make parents depressed and unsure of their parenting skills.

University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers say that the good news is you can turn the situation around.

UBC sleep expert and nursing professor Wendy Hall explains that although much is known about how poor sleep can affect a child’s children’s growth and development, maintaining parental sanity during this difficult period is a relatively under researched area.

According to Hall, “We have a fairly good idea how parental depression can negatively impact children’s development and parental attachment. But we know less about how kids’ sleep can affect their parents’ mental health. This study is one of the first to look at that connection.”

In the study, investigators recruited 253 families from British Columbia with infants who were having trouble sleeping. They then excluded parents diagnosed with or currently experiencing clinical depression.

The families were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group received sleep intervention for their child in the form of information about infant sleep and how to solve infant sleep problems, with support from public health nurses.

The second only received basic infant safety information packages. Parents’ depression scores were rated at the outset, and at six and 24 weeks after the intervention.

Investigators discovered a correlation between thoughts about their infant’s sleep and parental depression, even after making allowances for parental fatigue or poor sleep.

In other words, parents who worried that they could not manage their children’s sleep were more likely to have higher levels of depression. That was true for both mothers and fathers.

The situation improved after the intervention, notably by the 24-week mark. Once the infant sleep problem was treated, parental depression lifted significantly. There was a reduction of almost 30 percent of mothers and 20 percent of fathers reporting high depression scores.

Researchers believe the findings suggest that health care professionals should listen carefully to parents of young infants. Clinicians should look for signs of depression associated with doubts about helping infants sleep that are beyond parental fatigue or lack of sleep.

The study also highlights how sleep interventions can benefit both child and parent. That is parents should be informed that finding a way to regulate a child’s sleep can help a parent’s own state of mind and self-confidence get a boost.

Source: University of British Columbia