Infant sleep problems have no lasting impact

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Sleeping baby next to a stuffed animal.
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Parents of infants with sleep problems can be reassured that the problems are unlikely to persist and will not have long term effects on their child’s behaviour or mental health, a Murdoch Childrens Research Institute study has found.

The study, which is published in Sleep Medicine, followed 225 families who had children with sleep problems in infancy until the time their children were six years old. It found that most children who had a sleep problem at four months continued to have a sleep problem at 10 months, but after this time sleep problems were more likely to resolve than persist or recur.

Of the children studied, 53% had sleep problems at four months, whilst 30% had sleep problems at two years, and just 8% reported a ‘moderate to large’ sleeping problem at age six. Only 2% of children had persistent sleep problems at all time points throughout the study.

The more often a child had a sleep problem in infancy, the more likely they were to have a sleep problem at six years. However, sleep problems at any one time point did not predict child sleep problems at six years, and children who had only infant sleep problems did not have poorer health outcomes by the time they reached school.

Lead researcher Dr Anna Price said that, as well as not predicting sleep problems later in life, the study showed the child or parent’s mental health or health-related quality of life was unaffected.

“We found in our study that early sleep problems in infants, whether at single or multiple time points throughout our study, have little lasting effect on the child’s or parent’s health or mental health by the time the child was six.”

“However, consistent with previous studies, children with sleep problems at six years had poorer mental and general health and quality of life, and their parents also had poorer mental health at this age.”

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The researchers say health professionals should focus on reducing child sleep problems and their considerable short to medium term impacts as they arise in childhood.

Source: Murdoch Childrens Institute

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Date Created: July 16, 2012 Date Modified: December 20, 2012