Childhood sleep problems are associated with insufficient parental sleep and adverse maternal mental health symptoms, which may be exacerbated when mothers/toddlers co-sleep (i.e., bed/room sharing). This study examines maternal sleep duration as a mechanism linking perceived toddler sleep problems with maternal mental health and examines whether these associations vary by co-sleeping, in addition to exploring alternative models.
Low-income mothers of toddlers (n = 280) (age 12–32 months) recruited from Women, Infants, and Children and pediatric clinics provided demographic information and completed questionnaires on their toddler's sleep and their own sleep duration and mental health symptoms (depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress). Indirect and conditional indirect models were conducted to examine the relation between perceived toddler sleep problems and maternal mental health.
Perceived toddler sleep problems were associated with an average decrease of 51 minutes in maternal sleep when co-sleeping (mean = 6.1 h). Maternal sleep duration mediated the relation between perceived toddler sleep problems and maternal symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress for co-sleeping mothers. Maternal sleep duration did not mediate relations between maternal mental health symptoms and perceived toddler sleep problems.
This study provides a conceptual model by which parent and child sleep is related to parental mental health. Practitioners might consider alternatives to co-sleeping when discussing sleep arrangements with parents. Future studies should replicate results longitudinally and examine whether reducing co-sleeping improves maternal sleep duration and reduces perceptions of toddler sleep problems.