Children's bedtime problems may not only make parents lose sleep, but could also take a toll on their physical and emotional well-being, researchers reported Monday. In a study of more than 10,000 families with infants or preschoolers, Australian researchers found that parents who said their children had sleep problems tended to report poorer physical health and more emotional distress.
Mothers appeared to be particularly affected, the study found. Whereas only infant sleep problems were linked to poorer health among fathers, sleep difficulties at any age seemed to affect mothers' physical and psychological well-being.
This may be because mothers are usually the ones who deal with their children's sleep issues, according to the study authors. They report the findings in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The bottom line for parents is that they shouldn't simply live with sleep problems that are draining them physically and emotionally, said study co-author Dr Harriet Hiscock, of the Royal Children's Hospital and the University of Melbourne.
"They don't need to 'put up with it' if their child's sleep is a problem for them," she told Reuters Health. She suggested parents talk to their pediatrician about behavioural techniques for helping their children fall asleep and stay asleep.
A popular technique for helping babies learn to sleep through the night is "controlled crying," where parents gradually let their child's crying go on for increasingly long stretches before checking on them.
When they do check in, it's a low-key visit, with no lights or playing. Consistent bedtime routines can also help when preschoolers are resistant to the idea of turning in, Hiscock noted.
She and her colleagues based their findings on a national survey of 5,107 families with infants and 4,983 with preschool-aged children. Based on parents' responses, 17 percent of infants and 14 percent of preschoolers had a moderate or severe sleep problem.
Overall, mothers of these infants had poorer scores on standard measures of general health and psychological distress, while fathers had lower scores for general health. Similarly, mothers who preschoolers had sleep problems tended to show poorer general health. There are no hard definitions of child sleep problems.
Hiscock said. "In reality, if parents think that their child's sleep is a problem, then something needs to be done about it," she explained.
Typically, infant sleep problems include frequent wakings not related to feedings, and difficulty going to sleep in the first place, according to Hiscock. With preschoolers, bedtime resistance tends to be parents' top complaint.
(SOURCE: Pediatrics, May 2007).