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Parents’ problem drinking, particularly on the part of fathers, is linked to children’s sleep problems, according to a new study. The link is especially strong in ethnic minority families and low-income families.
This study shows that practitioners who work with disadvantaged families need to consider whether parents’ drinking may be affecting children’s sleep, with consequences during the day.
Parents’ problem drinking is a significant issue for children. About 40% of American children are exposed to parents’ problem drinking at some point in their lives, for example, dependence on and abuse of alcohol. And insufficient sleep is linked to a wide range of academic, social, emotional and physical problems, all of which may become worse if insufficient sleep is chronic.
The researchers, Ryan Kelly and Mona El-Sheikh of Auburn University in the USA, studied the sleep of 282 children over seven consecutive nights using wrist watch-like monitoring devices. They also interviewed both parents about their drinking.
They found that three important facets of children’s sleep were affected by parents’ problem drinking – the number of minutes spent asleep each night, the percentage of the night spent asleep, and the number of wakeful episodes that exceeded 5 minutes each.
Why might parents’ problem drinking be linked to sleep problems in a child? Drinking profoundly affects parents’ ability to provide a stable, secure and comfortable home in which sleep is easy. Other research has shown that children in homes where there is problem drinking have higher cortisol, a hormone associated with anxiety.
Why is the effect greater when fathers rather than mothers exhibit problem drinking? The researchers suggest that men’s drinking problems tend to be more serious than women’s, on average. Also, men who have been drinking tend to show more hostility than women who have been drinking.
Kelly RJ & El-Sheikh M (2016), Parental problem drinking and children’s sleep: The role of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, Journal of Family Psychology, 30