If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.
When children are not sleeping well, the cause might be the father, the mother, the baby or any combination. Even if the root cause or trigger might occur within the father, or the mother, or the baby, as time passes, interactive effects develop between all three. In order to help solve sleep problems, without judgement, it is important to consider all possible causes (Blog Posts 17 and 18).
Parents may have symptoms of anxiety or depression or habitual thoughts and beliefs that might, or might not, contribute to or cause sleep difficulties in their child. This topic is confusing because some studies look only at the father’s role and others look only at the mother’s role. Some research suggests that a colicky baby might trigger these symptoms in the parents. Interactions between each parent and the baby are important. Therefore, it is difficult to make firm conclusions about the direction of effect. Blog Posts 39–42 share studies that describe how parents’ issues might contribute to or cause sleep difficulties in their child.
About 10% of men experience prenatal and postpartum depression, and this is often associated with maternal depression. But an Australian study followed over 1,000 young men over 21 years showed that “expectant and new fathers are not at greater risk of depression or anxiety” compared to a matched group of men who did not become fathers. However, a separate study showed that men with a tendency to interpret events negatively (a cognitive bias) may respond to a fussy baby with greater negative affect; also, these “cognitive biases are associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety among fathers during the transition to parenthood.”
In Australia, publicly funded Early Parenting Centers (EPC), also known as Sleep Schools, provide a residential program offering parenting support and education, commonly for sleep and settling issues with their children (Blog Post 17). One study observed that the majority (84%) of fathers attending EPCs complained of “moderate to high fatigue” and concluded that “distress among fathers may be experienced as psychological and physiological tension, agitation, and frustration rather than depressed mood. It is also possible that it is more socially acceptable for fathers to report symptoms of stress than depression.”
Another Australian study found that while 10% of fathers experience mental health difficulties, there were attitudinal barriers to seeking help:
Fathers with the first attitudinal barrier regarding the need for control and self-reliance were more likely to have high levels of depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. In a separate study, fathers of 4-month-old infants with sleep problems had increased depressive symptoms, anger toward their child, poor personal sleep quantity and quality, and at 6 months, increased depressive symptoms. Finally, another study concluded that when postpartum depression occurs, “mothers are more likely to report sadness, and fathers are more likely to present with increased irritability and alcohol and substance use.”
Also, in Australia, many fathers whose wives sought care in EPCs exhibited “risky alcohol use (episodic excessive drinking or daily alcohol use).” For example, among these fathers, 20% had mental health problems and risky alcohol use occurred in 82%. Even among the 80% without mental health problems, risky alcohol use occurred in 50%.
Some fathers, perhaps those with certain cognitive biases, experience parenthood with symptoms of agitation, frustration, irritability, tension, anxiety, depression, or risky alcohol use. Other fathers are abusive, angry, absent, alcoholic, or addicted. However, in studies that focus on mothers’ mental health around pregnancy and parenthood, fathers are often not studied, thus producing an incomplete picture of mothers’ mental health. Mothers’ mental health status might, or might not, be strongly influenced by fathers’ mental health status.
(To be continued.)