Adverse associations of infant and child sleep problems and parent health: an Australian population study

Joanna Martin, Harriet Hiscock, Pollyanna Hardy, Belinda Davey, Melissa Wake
Pediatrics 2007, 119 (5): 947-55

OBJECTIVE: Infant sleep problems are strongly associated with poorer maternal mental health. It is not known whether they are also associated with poorer paternal mental health, nor whether sleep problems in older children are associated with maternal or paternal mental health. We aimed to examine relationships between child sleep problems and maternal and paternal mental health and general well-being in each of the infant and preschool-aged groups.

METHODS: Participants of this cross-sectional survey included families of infants (n = 5107) and preschool-aged children (n = 4983) participating in the first wave of the nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, surveyed March through November 2004. The primary outcomes were mother and father serious psychological distress (measured by the Kessler-6) and general health (parent report of general health taken from the 12-item Short Form Health Survey and dichotomized into poor versus good health). A primary caregiver's report of the child's sleep problem was dichotomized into moderate/severe versus none/mild.

RESULTS: The prevalence of severe psychological distress ranged from 3% to 5%, and prevalence of poor general health ranged from 8% to 11%. Moderate to severe sleep problems affected 17% of infants and 14% of preschool-aged children. Infant sleep problems were associated with poor general health in mothers and with poor general health in fathers. Preschool sleep problems were associated with poor maternal general health. In mothers with no past history of depression, infant sleep problems had a greater effect on severe psychological distress compared with mothers with a past history of depression.

CONCLUSIONS: Sleep problems are common in infants and preschool-aged children. Infant sleep problems, in particular, are associated with poorer health in both parents, especially the mental health of mothers with no past history of depression.

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