To investigate whether sleep disturbances previously found to characterise high risk infants: (a) persist into childhood; (b) are influenced by early maternal settling strategies and (c) predict cognitive and emotional/behavioural functioning.
Mothers experiencing high and low levels of psychosocial adversity (risk) were recruited antenatally and longitudinally assessed with their children. Mothers completed measures of settling strategies and infant sleep postnatally, and at 12 and 18 months, infant age. At five years, child sleep characteristics were measured via an actigraphy and maternal report; IQ and child adjustment were also assessed.
Sleep disturbances observed in high-risk infants persisted at five years. Maternal involvement in infant settling was greater in high risk mothers, and predicted less optimal sleep at five years. Poorer five year sleep was associated with concurrent child anxiety/depression and aggression, but there was limited evidence for an influence of early sleep problems. Associations between infant/child sleep characteristics and IQ were also limited.
Early maternal over-involvement in infant settling is associated with less optimal sleep in children, which in turn, is related to child adjustment. The findings highlight the importance of supporting parents in the early development of good settling practices, particularly in high-risk populations.