Temper tantrums and misbehavior, restlessness and inattention are the trappings of the typical toddler. But they may also be signs of developmental delays or disorders.

Could a baby’s sleep problems be red flags for developmental difficulties in toddlerhood?

cute tired baby eating babyfood

Frequent night wakings linked to trouble later on

A study recently published in Developmental Neuropsychology finds a definite link between poor infant sleep and compromised attention and behavior at the toddler stage.

The research discovered that one-year-olds who experienced fragmented sleep were more likely to have difficulties concentrating and to exhibit behavioral problems at three and four years of age.

“Many parents feel that, after a night without enough sleep, their infants are not at their ‘best.’ But the real concern is whether infant sleep problems — i.e. fragmented sleep, frequent night wakings — indicate any future developmental problems,” says Prof. Sadeh. “The fact that poor infant sleep predicts later attention and behavior irregularities has never been demonstrated before using objective measures.”

>> Many babies who sleep all night have this in common

Poor infant sleep may predict problematic toddler behavior

The team assessed the sleep patterns of infants at TAU’s Laboratory for Children’s Sleep Disorders, where Prof. Sadeh is director. The initial study included 87 one-year-olds and their parents. They revisited the lab when the infants were three to four years old.

According to the study, “Night-wakings of self-soothing infants go unnoticed by their parents. Therefore, objective infant sleep measures are required when assessing the role of sleep consolidation or sleep fragmentation and its potential impact on the developing child.”

>> Rock a bye baby: Soothing bedtime routines

(Article continues below ad)

To accomplish this, the researchers used wristwatch-like devices to objectively determine sleep patterns at the age of one, and in the follow-up visits they used a computerized attention test, the Spatial-Stroop task, to assess attentional executive control. They also referred to parental reports to determine signs of behavioral problems.

The results revealed significant predictive and concomitant correlations between infant sleep and toddler attention regulation and behavior problems.

The study points to significant ties between sleep quality markers (sleep percentage and number of night wakings) at one year of age, and attention and behavior regulation markers two to three years later.

Is it genetic?

“We don’t know what the underlying causes are for the lower sleep quality and later behavior regulation problems in these children,” Prof. Sadeh says. “There may be genetic or environmental causes adversely affecting both the children’s sleep and their development in other domains.”

“Our findings, however, support the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of sleep problems in infants and young children. Early interventions for infant sleep problems, very effective in improving sleep quality, could potentially improve later attention and behavior regulation.”


See books created by our team in the Myria shop!


About The Author

The Myria Editors

Myria, originally launched in 1998, strives to deliver more conversation, and less gossip. More intelligence, less eye-rolling. More acceptance, less judgment. And throughout the site: more needle, less haystack. Through life's ups, downs, and everything in between, we want to encourage you, support you, and help guide you. The team behind Myria understands that status updates and selfies never tell the whole story, and that we all have stuff to deal with, and that's nothing you need to hide here. Beyond "been there, done that" - every day, we're still there and still doing it. That's how we know: You've got this.


About: The research was led by Prof. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University's School of Psychological Sciences and conducted by a team that included his TAU colleagues Yael Guri and Prof. Yair Bar-Haim; Dr. Gali De Marcas of the Gordon College of Education in Haifa; and Prof. Andrea Berger and Dr. Liat Tikotzky of Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Photo credit(s): Photo thanks to Ben Kerckx

Original publication date: October 8, 2015

Leave a comment

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Read previous post:
Pumpkin ice cream pie

This frozen pumpkin ice cream pie recipe is quick to make, can be prepared in advance, and adds some extra vitamin...

Close