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Prenatal stress keeps infants, toddlers up at night, study says

Anxious or depressed mothers-to-be are at increased risk of having children who will experience sleep problems in infancy and toddlerhood, finds a study that published this month in Early Human Development.

While this finding presents itself as important news to tired new moms and dads for whom a soundly sleeping child spells out well-deserved respite it may carry even more value for babies. For them, sleep ranks as one of the most highly regarded indexes of healthy development, and plays a critical role in consolidating memory and facilitating learning, regulating metabolism and appetite, promoting good moods and sustaining both cardiovascular health and a vigorous immune function.

Weve long known that childs sleep is vital to his or her growth, but the origins of problems affecting it remained unclear. Now, we have evidence that these patterns may be set early on, perhaps even before birth, said lead author Thomas OConnor, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. This is another piece in the unfolding mystery of just how much the prenatal environment may shape a childs health and development for years to come.

The survey-based study, part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), assessed pregnant women living in Avon, England, who were due to give birth in a 21-month window. More than 14,000 women an estimated 85 to 90 percent of those eligible responded to questionnaires that gauged how depressed or anxious they were at multiple points early on in, late in, and after their pregnancy. Later on, the women were then asked to report on their childs sleep habits at 6, 18 and 30 months, detailing how long the child slept (a consolidated daytime and nighttime total), how often the child awoke, and if he or she exhibited any of seven common forms of sleep problems, such as having nightmares, refusing to go to bed or having trouble falling asleep.

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Contact: Becky Jones
rebecca_jones@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-8490
University of Rochester Medical Center
27-Jul-2007


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