For years developing a bedtime routine was thought of as the cure-all for reducing sleep disruptions and improving sleep quality for infants. Parents would go to great lengths in order to keep their children on a stringent bedtime routine. However, according to a recent study conducted by Doctor Douglas Teti, professor of Human Development and psychology at Penn State University, parents that are emotionally available to their children at bedtime report their children experiencing reduced sleep disruptions and improved sleep quality.
Doctor Teti’s study involves observing 35 families with children ranging from 1 to 24 months of age. Volunteers are observed through infrared cameras which are set up to record the infant’s bedtime routine and continue recording until the infant wakes up the next morning.
Doctor Teti believes, “What parents do at bedtime doesn’t seem to matter as much as how they do it. So you can decide to co-sleep or not co-sleep or you can decide whatever bedtime routine you want to follow. That seems secondary to whether or not parents are feeling good and comfortable with what they are doing”.
Research assistants were trained to observe and record bedtime routines and parents’ emotional availability. Emotional availability was measured by the widely used Emotional Availability Scales (1998); parents are measured on sensitivity, ability to set appropriate limits, hostility, and intrusiveness as seen when involved in interactions with their child.
During the study research assistants recorded a variety of emotional availability such as cuddling, talking softly, and reassuring phrases (e.g. it’s OK). Forms of low emotional availability were displayed by one mother in the study who told her twenty-four-month-old son to lie down and close his eyes; she then proceeded to threaten to take away his toys if he did not do what he was told.
The results of the study showed that the children of parents who displayed emotional availability at bedtime had fewer disruptions during the night and experienced a more quality sleep. Children with parents who showed less to no emotional availability towards their children at bedtime experience more disruptions and a decrease in sleep quality.
“My prediction is that children with parents who are more flexible and adaptive are kids that are going to be, from a developmental perspective, in much better shape over the long term than kids of parents who are not coping well”.
Doctor Teti hopes that his research will one day provide a link between sleep, parenting, and behavioral problems connected to children dealing with sleep deprivation. He believes that the link is associated with the way parents are dealing with their children’s behavioral problems as opposed to the widely excepted belief that sleep deprivation is the link. – Jeff, Staff Writer
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