A recent study published in the “Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics” analyzed maternal and infant sleep patterns, identifying predictors and offering recommendations for establishing healthy habits. The research team followed 464 infants and their parents during the first two years of the child’s life.
“The first two years is a really critical period where a lot of development is going on, and sleep is important for health. We wanted to look at the association of mother and infant sleep and whether it changes over time,” stated Tianying Cai, now a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University.
“We identified two distinct groups, a low maternal sleep group where the mothers get 5 to 6 hours of sleep per night, and an average maternal sleep group, which meets the national recommended sleep guidelines with 7 to 8 hours per night. Children in the low maternal sleep group also slept less, although the difference wasn’t as large as for the mothers,” Cai said.
Mothers completed surveys at 3, 12, 18, and 24 months, providing information about bedtime routines, their child’s sleep duration, nighttime waking, and sleep problems. The families were part of the STRONG Kids 2 program, which focuses on promoting nutrition and healthy habits in families with young children.
The study found that mothers who fit the “low maternal sleep profile” got an average of 5.74 hours of sleep per night at 3 months and 5.9 hours at 12 to 24 months. In contrast, mothers in the “average sleep profile” got 7.31 hours at 3 months and 7.28 hours at 12 to 24 months. Child sleep duration also varied between the two groups.
“If parents can establish early bedtime routines at three months, it improves sleep duration and reduces sleep problems,” Fiese stated. “Parents may feel overwhelmed and don’t realize that they have this in their toolkit. Something as simple as setting a regular bedtime early on and having routines, like reading a story to your child before they go to bed. You may not think they’re understanding, but the rhythm of your voice establishes predictability, and you can expand this bedtime routine over the first few years of life.”
The research team identified factors influencing a mother’s sleep, with infant-signaled nighttime waking being a significant predictor. Mothers were more likely to wake up when their infants stirred or woke up more frequently.
Mothers with longer employment hours were more likely to be in the low sleep group at 3 months, but this factor was no longer significant at 12 months. Additionally, mothers who breastfed their infants at 12 months were more likely to be in the average sleep group.
Over time, many families transitioned from the low to the average sleep group as infant sleep patterns consolidated. The researchers found that an earlier bedtime and consistent routines were associated with better sleep patterns, reinforcing previous findings from a related study.
While no significant differences were observed due to demographic characteristics in the sample, the researchers suggest that everyone can take steps to improve bedtime habits and sleep patterns. Following consistent routines and setting an earlier bedtime can be beneficial in establishing healthy sleep habits for both mothers and infants.
“Maternal education, income, or ethnicity did not predict sleep group memberships across 3 to 24 months; all parents were facing similar challenges. I think having a baby is a great equalizer for a lot of things, although moms who have to go back to work or work longer hours may have more pressures,” Donovan stated.
“Getting kids to bed earlier and trying to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines is really important because studies have shown that sleep is associated with a lot of neurocognitive outcomes and health in kids. The parents can be quite proactive even early in life to get their kids off on the right foot,” she concluded.
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