Background: Early parenthood is a time of chronic sleep disturbance and also of heightened depression risk. Poor sleep quality has been identified both as a predictor of postpartum depressive symptoms and as a consequence.
Purpose: This study sought to clarify causal pathways linking sleep and postpartum depression via longitudinal path modeling. Sleep quality at 6 months postpartum was hypothesized to exacerbate depressive symptoms from 1 month through 1 year postpartum in both mothers and fathers. Within-couple associations between sleep and depression were also tested.
Methods: Data were drawn from a low-income, racially and ethnically diverse sample of 711 couples recruited after the birth of a child. Depressive symptoms were assessed at 1, 6, and 12 months postpartum, and sleep was assessed at 6 months postpartum.
Results: For both partnered mothers and fathers and for single mothers, depressive symptoms at 1 month postpartum predicted sleep quality at 6 months, which in turn predicted depressive symptoms at both 6 and 12 months. Results held when infant birth weight, breastfeeding status, and parents' race/ethnicity, poverty, education, and immigration status were controlled. Mothers' and fathers' sleep quality and depressive symptoms were correlated, and maternal sleep quality predicted paternal depressive symptoms both at 6 and at 12 months.
Conclusions: Postpartum sleep difficulties may contribute to a vicious cycle between sleep and the persistence of depression after the birth of a child. Sleep problems may also contribute to the transmission of depression within a couple. Psychoeducation and behavioral treatments to improve sleep may benefit new parents.
Keywords: Couples; Parents; Postpartum depression; Sleep; Sleep disturbance; Sleep duration.