Worrying about your child’s sleep habits may lead to depression

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Parents with sleepless babies are more prone to parental depression, a recent study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) followed outcomes of 253 families with babies who had difficulty sleeping, aged between six-to-eight months old.

Parents of the bad sleepers had experienced depression from worrying about their children's sleepless nights.

The families were provided with 24 weeks of sleep treatment and the results showed that the severity of parental depression reduced. Among severe parental depression sufferers, about 30 per cent of mums and 20 per cent of fathers noticed an improvement in their symptoms, after their children began sleeping better.

In results, published in the journal BMC Pregnancy Childbirth, families received information about how to get their child to sleep better and were provided support by nurses. Other families were just provided basic safety information.

The families that got more support reported a significant improvement in parental depression. People suffering pre-existing clinical depression did not take part in the study.

"The situation improved after the intervention, notably the 24-week mark," study author Wendy Hall said in a UBC News article.

"Once the infant sleep problem was treated, parental depression lifted significantly.

She said that researchers already had a good understanding of how poor sleep and parental depression can affect a child's development, but it was less clear how a child's sleep patterns impacted on the parents' wellbeing.

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"We know less about how kids' sleep can affect their parents' mental health," she said.

"This study is one of the first to look at that connection.

"We found a correlation between thoughts about their infant's sleep and parental depression, even after making allowances for parental fatigue or poor sleep.

"In other words, parents who worried that they could not manage their children's sleep were more likely to have higher levels of depression. That was true for both mothers and fathers."

She said the results highlighted the importance of providing parents with the support they need.

"It tells us that we should listen carefully to parents of young infants, to recognise signs of depression associated with doubts about helping young infants sleep that are beyond parental fatigue and lack of sleep," she said.

"If you can find a way to regulate your child's sleep, your own state of mind and self confidence get a boost. Talking to a health professional can help."

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, or know someone who might be, contact BeyondBlue.org.au (call 1300 224 636), LifeLine (call 13 11 14 or chat online after hours), or PANDA National Helpline (1300 726 306).