Children's Sleep Quality May Be Linked to Mother's Sleep Pattern

Emerging research suggests children are at a greater risk of sleeping poorly if their mothers suffer from insomnia symptoms.

Experts say attention to sleep challenges is an important health issue as sleep plays an essential role for adults’ and children’s well-being.

In the study, investigators from the University of Basel and the University of Warwick assessed sleep characteristics among nearly 200 school-aged children and their parents.

Researchers focused on the relationship between parents’ insomnia symptoms and their children’s sleep. Short sleep and poor sleep quality may affect mental health, learning, memory, and school achievement in children. In Switzerland and America, around 28 percent of adult women and 20 percent of men suffer from disturbed sleep.

Sleep was measured in healthy 7-12-years old children by in-home electroencephalography (EEG); around half of the children were born pre-term. In addition, parents reported their own insomnia symptoms and their children’s sleep problems.

As reported in the journal Sleep Medicine, researchers discovered children of mothers with insomnia symptoms fall asleep later, get less sleep, and spend less time in deep sleep as measured by EEG. However, there was no association between the fathers’ sleep problems.

It is possible that mothers’ sleep is more closely related to children’s sleep than fathers’ sleep. Researchers posit that this may occur because mothers on average still spend more time with their children than fathers. Therefore, the mother’s sleeping behavior has a stronger influence on the child.

When parents reported their children’s sleep, both mothers and fathers with sleep problems more often reported that their children had difficulties getting into bed and did not sleep enough.

Investigators note that several mechanisms could account for the relationship between parents’ and children’s sleep:

  1. Children may learn sleep habits from their parents.
  2. Poor family functioning could affect both parents’ and children’s sleep. For instance, family fights in the evening before bedtime may prevent the whole family from a good night’s sleep.
  3. It is possible that parents suffering from poor sleep show “selective attention” for their own as well as their children’s sleep problems leading to increased monitoring of sleep. It is possible that increased monitoring and attempts to control sleep may negatively affect sleep quality.
  4. Finally, children may also share genes with their parents that predispose for poor sleep.

Source: University of Basel