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 parent’s issues might contribute to or cause sleep difficulties in their child.
Some fathers (Blog Posts 39), perhaps those with certain cognitive biases, experience parenthood with symptoms of agitation, frustration, irritability 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. Therefore, it is incorrect to conclude from the following discussion that the mother’s mental health status is the direct or only cause of the behaviors and problems discussed.
Dr. Liat Tikotzky studied maternal sleep-related cognitions (habitual thoughts and beliefs) and used a rating instrument describing 14 hypothetical case descriptions of infants who have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Mothers were asked to rate on a 6-point scale (from highly agree to highly disagree) their agreement with assertions in 2 categories:
She also performed assessments of parental soothing patterns at bedtime and during the night, using a scale from low involvement to high involvement:
Objective sleep measures were obtained on the infants at 1, 6, and 12 months. Her results showed that “maternal cognitions related to concerns about the infants’ distress at night [were] associated with more disturbed sleep, as reflected by a higher number of objective and subjective night wakings, while maternal cognitions emphasizing the importance of limiting parental involvement were associated with more consolidated sleep.” Further, “maternal prenatal cognitions that are shaped even before the infant is born predicted the quality of the infant’s sleep at later stages.” Similarly, “mothers who put more emphasis on the infant’s distress reported later greater parental involvement in soothing their infant to sleep at the age of 6 and 12 months.”
“These findings support the hypothesis that parental soothing methods are not solely dependent on infant’s characteristics. It appears that mothers bring their own perceptions into the interaction and those cognitions seem to shape their behavior toward the infant around bedtime.”
Just to be absolutely clear, “It would be wrong to conclude from these findings that parents should abstain from approaching their infant at night in order to facilitate good sleep patterns. Undoubtedly during the first months of life, infants need their parents for comfort and regulation, while gradually these functions shift from the caregiver to the infant Parents emphasizing the importance of limiting parental involvement at night did not devaluate or disregard the interpretations underlying the need to soothe the infant. Moreover, in their actual soothing behavior, those parents who endorsed the limits interpretation were responsive to their infants and offered help although less intensively than parents who emphasized the distress interpretations and who relied more on active soothing.”
(To be continued.)