September 13, 2017
2 min read

Parental insomnia symptoms influence children’s sleep habits

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Sakari Lemola

Recent findings indicated associations between parental insomnia symptoms, particularly maternal insomnia symptoms, and children’s sleeping behaviors.

“Sleep plays an essential role for both adults’ and children’s health and wellbeing. Short sleep and poor sleep quality may affect children’s mental health, learning, memory and school achievement,” study researcher Sakari Lemola, PhD, of the University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom, told “Moreover, sleep disturbances are frequent in both children and adults. In adulthood, around 30% of people suffer from disturbed sleep. The most common sleep disorder in adulthood is insomnia, which is defined by symptoms such as difficulty falling or staying asleep at night. A better understanding of the conditions associated with sleep problems in families will pave the way to design more effective interventions.”

To assess associations between parental insomnia symptoms and children’s sleep, researchers conducted in-home sleep electroencephalography among 191 healthy children aged 7 to 12 years. Ninety-six participants were born very preterm (<32 weeks of gestation).

Parents reported children’s sleep behavior using the German version of the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire and their own insomnia symptoms using the Insomnia Severity Index.

Maternal insomnia symptoms were associated with less total sleep time, more stage 2 sleep, less slow wave sleep, later sleep onset time and later awakening time in children. Paternal symptoms were not associated with these outcomes.

Maternal and paternal insomnia symptoms were associated with their reports of children’s bedtime resistance, sleep duration, sleep anxiety, night wakings and daytime sleepiness.

Maternal insomnia symptoms were associated with paternal-reported bedtime resistance, sleep anxiety and sleep-disordered breathing in children.

According to researchers, associations between parental insomnia symptoms and parental-reported child sleep outcomes were not explained by objective measures of children’s sleep.

“The most important conclusion from our study is that parents’ and children’s sleep align. Several mechanisms could account for the relationship between parents’ and children’s sleep,” Lemola said. “First, children may learn sleep habits from their parents. Second, poor family functioning could affect both parents’ and children’s sleep. Third, it is possible that parents suffering from poor sleep show ‘selective attention’ for their own as well as their children’s sleep problems, leading to increased monitoring of sleep. It is possible that increased monitoring and attempts to control sleep may negatively affect sleep quality. And finally, in families with young children, it is frequent that parental sleep becomes disrupted because of their children’s sleep problems.”


All of these mechanisms, Lemola said, “are important for practitioners because there are effective interventions to improve sleep. We assume that effective treatment of one family member’s insomnia might also improve sleep and wellbeing of the other family members, because sleep patterns of family members are connected.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.