Learning to sleep through the night: Solution or strain for mothers and young children?

Infant Ment Health J. 2009 May;30(3):223-244. doi: 10.1002/imhj.20212.


Is the process of helping infants and young children learn to sleep through the night a solution to family sleep problems or does it exacerbate matters for mother and child? Retrospective and current accounts from a nonclinical, convenience sample of 102 mothers of preschool-aged children provided information on sleep issues from early infancy through preschool age. Child, mother, and parenting characteristics, along with family sleep arrangements, were differentially related to the age at which children learned to sleep through the night and to the extent of difficulty that characterized this experience. Mothers who indicated more difficulty as their children learned to sleep through the night also reported more depressive symptoms and more strain in the mother-child relationship. Later age at sleeping through the night was more common among early bedsharers, but timing of sleeping through the night was not associated with preschool children's reported independence in several nonsleep domains. Sleep arrangements and the importance placed on sleeping through the night were the strongest contributors to variance explained in whether children learned to sleep through the night during infancy or toddlerhood. When advising parents about sleep interventions, practitioners should seek to understand whether families' parenting values fit their nighttime sleep practices.