A mother’s sleeping habits may strongly influence her children’s likelihood of developing insomnia, suggest researchers.

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Children may have trouble sleeping if their mother has insomnia, a new study suggests.

Children, in much the same way as adults, can have trouble sleeping and be affected by insomnia. In fact, some studies have pointed out that around 25 percent of all children have behavioral insomnia, which excludes sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

Furthermore, other surveys have reported that as many as 27 percent of children in the United States do not get the amount of sleep that is recommended for their age.

Quite similarly to how sleeplessness affects adults, sleep troubles may affect children’s mental health and overall well-being, as well as impacting their learning and memory skills.

This is why researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, set out to examine the link between the sleep quality of parents and that of their children.

The findings – which were published in the journal Sleep Medicine – suggest that the mother’s insomnia may lead to poor sleep quality in her children.

The study was jointly led by Natalie Urfer-Maurer, from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Basel, and Dr. Sakari Lemola, from Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick.

Urfer-Maurer and colleagues examined 191 children aged between 7 and 12, 96 of whom were born preterm. Otherwise, the children were healthy overall.

The children’s parents reported on their offspring’s sleep habits by filling in the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire.

This information was compared with objective data collected from the children one night using an in-home electroencephalography (EEG). The EEG was able to determine what sleep stage the children spent the most time in, as well as how long it took them to fall asleep.

The parents were also asked to report on the quality of their own sleep using the Insomnia Severity Index.

The study found that maternal, but not paternal, insomnia correlated with a poorer sleep quality in the children.

Specifically, children whose mothers had insomnia had difficulty falling asleep, got less sleep per night, and spent more time in the light stage of non-random eye movement sleep than their counterparts whose mothers had no sleep troubles. These children also tended to wake up earlier.

“These findings are important because sleep in childhood is essential for well-being and development,” says Dr. Lemola.

The findings show that children’s sleep has to be considered in the family context. In particular, the mother’s sleep appears to be important for how well school-aged children sleep.”

Dr. Sakari Lemola

As this is an observational study, no conclusions can be drawn about the causal mechanisms behind the findings. However, the researchers venture some possible explanations.

For one thing, children may acquire the sleep habits from their parents. For another, domestic fights may underpin both the parents’ and the children’s poor sleep quality.

Thirdly, the authors speculate, parents who live with insomnia may have an unhealthy focus on controlling and monitoring sleep in both themselves and their children.

Genetics may also play a role. The researchers concede, however, that the fact that Swiss children spend more time with their mothers than with their fathers may account for the correlation.