There are plenty of reasons why mothers – especially of young children – don’t sleep well: hungry and thirsty babies, those who have bad dreams, general disquiet or stomachaches or exposure to noise or lights. Now there is another one: COVID-19.
Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and home confinement on maternal anxiety
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Beersheba and the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College have found that many Israeli mothers are experiencing an increase in insomnia severity and mild-to-high levels of acute anxiety. “In the study, we addressed, for the first time, consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and home confinement on maternal anxiety, insomnia, as well as reports of sleep problems among children between six and 72 months old,” noted Prof. Liat Tikotzky, head of BGU’s Parenting, Child Development and Sleep Lab and a member of the university’s psychology department.
Despite the marked impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic on the life of families and its possible negative implications for sleep, little is known about how sleep among parents and children has been impacted by this current crisis.
They also study the implications of parental sleep disturbances
The study has just been published in the Journal of Sleep Research under the title “Maternal perceptions of sleep problems among children and mothers during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic in Israel.”
The lab engages in research on the role of parents in child sleep development and understanding the characteristics of parents’ sleep disturbances after the babies are born. They also study the implications of parental sleep disturbances on their emotional and cognitive functioning and on their relationship with their infant.
Sleep disturbances of mothers during the pandemic more than doubled to 23%
The researchers didn’t find significant correlations between the sociodemographic variables (such as the. mother’s age and income level) and the rate of insomnia and length of the children’s sleep.
The study’s results indicated that sleep disturbances of mothers during the pandemic more than doubled to 23%, compared with only 11% before the pandemic. About eight in 10 mothers also reported mild-to-high levels of anxiety about COVID-19. In the study, mothers were asked to complete a self-reporting questionnaire on two time points: in hindsight one to two months before the COVID-19 outbreak in Israel, and during home confinement because of the first closure. The researchers then computed a score representing the mother’s perception of change in her sleep quality.
“We further observed that mothers who reported an increase in insomnia symptoms had significantly higher levels of acute COVID-19 anxiety than mothers who reported no change in insomnia symptoms, while no group differences were detected in their typical … anxiety levels, suggesting that current anxiety may contribute to the increase in severity of insomnia symptoms,” Tikotzky said.
12% of mothers even reported a positive change in their child’s sleep quality
The team also found that about 30% of mothers reported a negative change in their child’s sleep quality and a decrease in how long they slept. But it is important to note that the majority of mothers reported no change in their child’s sleep quality, duration, arrangement, and their perception of child’s sleep as problematic. In addition, 12% of mothers even reported a positive change in their child’s sleep quality, and 25% reported an increase in sleep duration.
Mothers who reported higher scores of insomnia were also more likely to report that their children had poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration. This was consistent with previous studies showing significant links between maternal and child sleep quality during normal times. The team said it was important to explore in more depth the resilience of families that could explain the different patterns of responses in children’s and mothers’ sleep during times of crises. This is particularly important given the role of sleep in child development and parental functioning.