Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Child Development

Abstract

Sleep is a universal construct that receives much attention in media and science, at least partially due to its importance as an essential component in development, health, and wellbeing. While undeniably vital, infant sleep is often variable and relatedly perplexing to parents. Around five-to-seven months of age, infants enter a time of quantifiable developmental change, impacting relational, cognitive, motoric, communicative and sleep behaviors. Because adequate sleep is considered one of the most indispensable precursors for developmental gains, factors that impact the progression of sleep are of interest. The current study utilized Ecological Theory to examine what variables impact sleep consolidation, including infant temperament, maternal mental health and well-being and sociocultural contributors.

This study implemented an explanatory sequential mixed-methods research design that included both an online survey and case study approach. A socioculturally homogenous sample of eighty-eight caregivers of infants around the ages of five-to-seven-months completed an online survey that asked caregivers questions related to their broader beliefs about infant sleep, how their baby was currently sleeping, and their level of satisfaction with sleep arrangements. Five mother-infant dyads were recruited for the case study cohort and mothers completed a series of questionnaires related to mental health, parenting self-efficacy and social support, a five-day sleep log, and an in-person semi-structured interview and naturalistic observation.

The results of this study provided evidence that five- to seven-month-olds are generally sleeping for consolidated chunks of time overnight, and that caregivers within the demographic sampled were similar in their sleep related beliefs and practices and the amount of infant night waking they were experiencing. Results also suggested that out of the three factors explicitly examined with case study methodology, maternal-driven variables appeared to be the most influential component in sleep consolidation, followed by sociocultural contributors and infant characteristics. Of the three contributors investigated with case study, sound maternal mental health and adequate partner and social support were associated with better sleep. Postpartum depression, anxiety and worry were tied to co-sleeping, which appeared to further perpetuate night waking behavior, and this interaction may have also been moderated by poor partner and social support for two of the five mothers in the case study sample.

Considering infant sleep in the context of Ecological Theory is pertinent, given the numerous, interconnected factors that contribute to sleep consolidation. This study’s findings point to the importance of pediatricians, obstetricians and other health professionals in supporting families who may be struggling in the postpartum period. Home visiting programs and other resources that provide support for exhausted families can lessen confusion around infant sleep.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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