Emotional and Behavioral Problems in Toddlers Linked to Disturbed Sleep During Infancy

Disturbed sleep has a huge effect on mood, emotional state, and daytime functioning. This study researches the impact of poor sleep at an early stage.

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Last Updated: Fri, April 21, 2023

Sleep is one of the most important things at a young age. It is essential for proper physical and mental development, as well as emotional well-being. If you thought that depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems are reserved for adults only, you couldn’t be more wrong.

An increase in the prevalence of these conditions in children shows that the situation is very serious, and we might have to look for triggers at the early stage of development.

A new study from the University of Birmingham investigates a link between sleep problems at an early age, and how they affect later emotional development. The results show that infants with poor sleep quality have a higher chance of developing depression, anxiety, or behavioral problems as toddlers.

Although it is well known how sleep disturbances can impact mood, irritability, and behavioral difficulties during the daytime, this study investigates how poor sleep affects behavioral and emotional health later in childhood.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham collaborated with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare to find out the impact of night awakenings, prolonged period of falling asleep, and short sleep duration on emotional state and behavioral problems in toddlers at 24 months.

The team used the results from sleep questionnaires from a study where parents reported sleep quality of their children at 3, 8, 18, and 24 months. They gathered the information from almost 1700 parents. Later, those results were compared with an additional questionnaire on emotional and behavioral state at 24 months, filled by 950 parents.

The results showed frequent night awakenings at three months of age to be strongly linked to the inability to control emotions and behavior, and overall emotional problems in toddlers. Additionally, both short sleep and longer sleep onset were correlated to behavioral problems at 24 months, such as temper tantrums.

According to these findings, it is easy to conclude the enormous importance of sleep quality on mental health and the development of healthy coping mechanisms at a later age. These sleep disturbances could have different origins, form genetics to environmental factors. Of course, detecting poor sleep at a young age is vital for healthy development.

Authors highlight the importance of more research in this area, as well as developing novel interventions for infants with sleep problems, as it could be particularly beneficial for healthy emotional state and behavioral control in children.



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Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.