Sleep Disorders in Infancy Trigger Later Behavioral and Emotional Issues

Concurrent with research made on a cohort from Australia and published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a new one made on a group from Finland reveal the same results: sleep disorders, defined by taking a long time to fall asleep and waking up more frequently during the night, are traits that will develop into behavioral and emotional issues in later stages of childhood.

The second study was made by researchers at the Institute for Mental Health, at the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, in Helsinki. They published their findings in the BMJ Paediatrics Open.


The study on Australian mother & children analyzed the links between sleeping behavior during the first year of life and the repercussion they have on the children reaching ten years of age.

In the study on Finnish mother & children, researchers concentrated their observations on how poor-quality sleeping in the first three months affects the infant’s emotional behavior when he is eight months old, then 18, and they conclude testing when the children reach the age of 2.

Both studies observed that persistent and severe sleep difficulties in infancy end in persistent and behavioral and emotional problems for toddlers, such as the inability to control emotions and behaviors, temper tantrums, and later severe depression and anxiety. If you or someone you know is struggling with stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues, BetterHelp is a great option. Their therapists are custom-matched to you, in order to help you get the most out of each session.

If addressed, sleeping disorders can help prevent future emotional and behavioral problems in later stages of childhood. The socio-emotional development of the children can be prevented from being damaged.


Both studies are observational, so it isn’t clear what triggers the disruption in the infant’s sleep behavior. It can be biological or/and neurological, genetical and environmental. But they both agree that sleeping behavior in children is linked to the parent’s behavior.

“Environmental factors, such as sleeping practices in the family, parental reactions to crying and parental stress also play an important part in a child’s sleep and socioemotional development,” said lead researcher of the Finnish study Dr. Isabel Morales-Muñoz.

The researchers from the Australian research said that parental behavior when it comes to the infant’s sleeping behavior has an enormous input. Also, they consider the infant’s inability to fall asleep without the parent’s presence can be an indicator of deranged sleep behavior. It indicates abandonment anxiety, probably in both parent and child.

Sleep disorders in infancy

By the time infants reach the age of two, their brain size has reached 90 % of an adult-sized brain. A majority of this brain growth has occurred during the period of life with the highest rate of sleep.

The hours that children spend asleep influence their ability to perform on cognitive tasks. Children who sleep through the night and have few night waking episodes have higher cognitive attainments and easier temperaments than other children.

Sleep also influences language development. Infants who sleep within four hours of learning the language can remember the language rules better, while infants who stay awake longer don’t recall those rules as well. There is also a relationship between infants’ vocabulary and sleeping: infants who sleep longer at night when they are 12 months of age have better vocabularies at 26 months.

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