Infant sleep and anxiety disorders in early childhood: Findings from an Australian pregnancy cohort study

Kelli K. MacMillan, Declan Bourke, Stuart J. Watson, Andrew J. Lewis, Douglas M. Teti, Helen L. Ball, Megan Galbally

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Emphasis on continuous infant sleep overnight may be driven by parental concern of risk to child mental health outcomes. The Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Wellbeing Study (MPEWS) examined whether infant sleep at 6 and 12 months postpartum predicts anxiety disorders at 2–4 years, and whether this is moderated by maternal depression, active physical comforting (APC) or maternal cognitions about infant sleep. Data included 349 women and infants. Infant sleep was measured using the Brief Infant Sleep Questionnaire and child anxiety disorders by the Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment. The risk of developing generalised anxiety or social phobia disorders at 3–4 years was reduced by 42% (p = 0.001) and 31% (p = 0.001), respectively, for a one standard deviation increase in total sleep at 12 months. No other infant sleep outcomes were associated. Maternal depression, APC and cognitions about infant sleep did not significantly moderate these relationships. Focus may need to be on total infant sleep, rather than when sleep is achieved. Highlights: To assess whether infant sleep outcomes (i.e., frequency of nocturnal wakes; nocturnal wakefulness and total sleep per day) at 6 and 12 months predict early childhood anxiety disorders at 3–4 years of age. Maternally reported infant sleep outcomes were not associated with the risk of developing early childhood anxiety disorders at 3–4 years. It may be total infant sleep, irrespective of when sleep occurs or night waking and, independently, active physical comforting that requires further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInfant and Child Development
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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