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

A University of Limerick study has found four distinct sleep profiles in 9-month old infants in Ireland with mothers of infants in the poorer sleep profiles 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. In the most common sleep profile with almost half of the infants, mothers reported that baby sometimes woke at night but 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. tudy co-author, Prof 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.