The Family Context of Toddler Sleep: Routines, Sleep Environment, and Emotional Security Induction in the Hour before Bedtime

Behav Sleep Med. 2021 Nov-Dec;19(6):795-813. doi: 10.1080/15402002.2020.1865356. Epub 2020 Dec 26.


Family processes during the pre-bedtime period likely have a crucial influence on toddler sleep, but relatively little previous research has focused on family process in this context. The current study examined several aspects of family process during the pre-bedtime period, including the use of bedtime routines, the qualities of the child's home sleep environment, and the promotion of child emotional security, in families of 30-month-old toddlers (N= 546; 265 female) who were part of a multi-site longitudinal study of toddler development. These characteristics were quantified using a combination of parent- and observer-reports and examined in association with child sleep using correlation and multiple regression. Child sleep was assessed using actigraphy to measure sleep duration, timing, variability, activity, and latency. Bedtime routines were examined using parents' daily records. Home sleep environment and emotional security induction were quantified based on observer ratings and in-home observation notes, respectively. All three measures of pre-bedtime context (i.e., bedtime routine inconsistency, poor quality sleep environments, and emotional security induction) were correlated with various aspects of child sleep (significant correlations:.11-.22). The most robust associations occurred between the pre-bedtime context measures and sleep timing (i.e., the timing of the child's sleep schedule) and variability (i.e., night to night variability in sleep timing and duration). Pre-bedtime variables, including bedtime routine consistency, home sleep environment quality, and positive emotional security induction, also mediated the association between family socioeconomic status and child sleep. Our findings underscore the value of considering family context when examining individual differences in child sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Actigraphy
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Parents
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders*
  • Sleep*