Parents Relationship Affects Quality of Children's Sleep


2011-05-16 09:33

When parents have problems, it can affect children in many ways, including the quality of their sleep. Researchers from the Oregon Social Learning Center found that when there is marital discord, even infants can experience sleep problems.

Marriage Discontent Can Lead to Sleep Problems in Infants and Toddlers

Anne Mannering PhD, an instructor in human development and family sciences at Oregon State University, and colleagues followed 350 families for nine months beginning when their infants were nine months old. To rule out the possibility of genetic influences, all children in the study were adopted. Demographically, the families were mostly white, middle-class and educated. Marital stability was assessed with questions that asked, in general, “has the thought of separating or getting a divorce crossed your mind?”

Instability in a parents’ relationship at the beginning of the study when the children were infants predicted the ability of the child falling and staying asleep when they were toddlers at 18 months old. The higher the parents scored on marital instability measures, the greater the likelihood of sleep problems. The association remained constant even when factoring in birth order, parental anxiety, and infant fussiness.

Read: Sharing Parenting Duties May Increase Conflict

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“Our findings suggest that the effects of marital instability on children’s sleep problems emerge earlier in development than has been demonstrated previously,” said Dr. Mannering. “Even if they're not able to cognitively comprehend what's going on, if there's some level of stress, it can still influence an infant in some way.”

It is important to note that the study's measure of marital problems focused on the parents' thoughts of divorce, not level of conflict or severity of fighting. Future research will examine marital conflict more directly as well as assessing whether the sleep problems last past the age of 2.

Read: Maternal Affection Provides Lifetime Benefits

“Parents should be aware that marital stress may affect the well-being of their children even in the first year or two of life,” Mannering concludes. If these problems persist, they can “correlate with problems in school, inattention and behavioral issues.”

Journal Reference:
"Longitudinal Associations Between Marital Instability and Child Sleep Problems across Infancy and Toddlerhood in Adoptive Families by Mannering", AM (Oregon Social Learning Center), Harold, GT (University of Leicester), Leve, LD (Oregon Social Learning Center), Shelton, KH (Cardiff University), Shaw, DS (University of Pittsburgh), Conger, RD (University of California at Davis), Neiderhiser, JM (The Pennsylvania State University), Scaramella, LV (University of New Orleans), and Reiss, D (Yale Child Study Center), Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 82, Issue 4

Image Source: Ed Yourdon via Flickr

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