UL Study Links Infants Sleep Patterns with Mother’s Mental and Physical Health

A study undertaken by researchers at the University of Limerick has identified four distinct sleep profiles in 9-month old infants in Ireland indicating that mothers of infants in the poorer sleep profiles are more likely to report higher levels of stress and depression and poorer physical health.

In data generated from the Growing Up in Ireland study, a nationally representative sample of over 11,134 9-month old infants, mothers reported on their health and infants sleep patterns. Only 1 in 6 mothers reported that their baby never woke at night.  The most common sleep profile, representing almost half of the infants, were babies who sometimes woke in the night but their mothers reported that baby’s sleep was not a problem for them.  However, a quarter of infants were in a sleep profile where all mothers reported that baby’s sleep was a problem for them with a third of these mothers reporting a moderate or large problem. These mothers tended to have higher levels of education and income than mothers in the other profiles and reported getting an average of less than seven hours sleep a night.

Study co-author, Professor Ailish Hannigan from the Graduate Entry Medical School in the University of Limerick, explains the significance of this study “This is the first study on this scale to explore infant sleep patterns in this way and provides valuable information for parents on common sleep behaviours.”  Co-author, Dr Stephen Gallagher, Centre for Social Issues, University of Limerick explains that “Inadequate sleep quantity and quality in infants can have adverse effects on family function, parental stress as well as marital relationships. Not surprisingly, given that mothers provide most of the night-time care for infants, we find here that there is variation in these health effects across different infant sleep profiles with some infant sleep patterns being more problematic than others.”
Further research will follow these infants at three years and investigate any long term outcomes associated with poorer sleep both for the mother and the child.

The study, which was published in the international journal Maternal and Child Health Journal was undertaken by Dr Aoife Hughes and Professor Ailish Hannigan from the Graduate Entry Medical School, UL and Dr Stephen Gallagher, from the Department of Psychology, UL.
Growing Up in Ireland – National Longitudinal Study of Children

Growing Up in Ireland is being carried out by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin. The Government has commissioned Growing Up in Ireland as part of its commitment to improving the lives of all children in Ireland.

  • Dr Aoife Hughes is an Intern in University Hospital Limerick and recent graduate from the Graduate Entry Medical School, University of Limerick.
  • Dr Stephen Gallagher is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Limerick. He has a degree in Psychology and Health Sciences from the University of Liverpool, an MSc in Health Psychology, Staffordshire University and a PhD in Stress and Health, University of Birmingham. His research interests focus on the impact of stress on health and well-being.
  • Professor Ailish Hannigan is Associate Professor of Biostatistics in the Graduate Entry Medical School, UL. Her research interests are in outcome modelling and longitudinal data.