Babies who persistently struggle to sleep in their first year are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression in childhood, research suggests. Picture: AP
Babies who persistently struggle to sleep in their first year are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression in childhood, research suggests. Picture: AP

Why babies who struggle to sleep are more likely to grow up depressed

By Ben Spencer Time of article published Mar 10, 2020

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London - Babies who persistently struggle to sleep in their first year are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression in childhood, research suggests.

One in five babies has sleep difficulties in their first 12 months – such as frequent waking or trouble falling asleep.

These babies are three times as likely to suffer with emotional problems by the age of four, researchers found.

And they are more than twice as likely to have an emotional disorder – such as depression, separation anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder – by the age of ten.

The scientists, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, said babies who struggle to sleep should be carefully monitored for mental health problems in childhood.

The team tracked 1 500 babies for the first year of their life – with mothers answering a questionnaire about their babies’ sleeping patterns at three, six, nine and 12 months.

Each baby was given a score depending on their sleep patterns and put in one of three categories at the end of their first year.

About 19 percent were found to have had "persistent and severe sleep difficulties", including frequent waking at night and trouble falling asleep without help from a parent.

Another 56 percent had "moderate, fluctuating sleep problems" and 25 percent had "settled sleep". The babies were tracked throughout childhood and their mental health was assessed at the ages of four and ten.

The research, published in the BMJ Archives of Disease in Childhood journal, found those with persistent and severe sleep problems were 2.7 times more likely to suffer symptoms of emotional problems when they were four years old.

And they were 2.4 times as likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for an emotional disorder by the time they were ten. These disorders include separation anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, bipolar and ADHD.

The scientists wrote: "Persistent disturbed sleep during infancy may be an early indicator of a child’s heightened susceptibility to later mental health difficulties – in particular, anxiety problems."

Families reporting persistent infant sleep problems may require "enhanced support" they said.

They added: "Infants with persistent severe sleep problems should be monitored for emerging mental health difficulties during childhood."

Daily Mail

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