Anxious or depressed mothers may disrupt their babies' sleep, rather than babies disturbing parents, US researchers have said.

The scientists, from Pennsylvania State University, found that mothers with higher symptoms of depression and who worried more about their child's sleep had children whose sleep was more disturbed compared with mothers who had no symptoms of depression.

The scientists claim that the mother's anxiety led them to disturb their babies while they were sleeping, waking them up and feeding them or cuddling them during the night.

Scientists studied the behaviour of 45 new mothers over the course of a week, looking at sleeping patterns and asking them to record their activities in a diary. The study suggested that anxious mothers were quicker to respond to sounds the baby made during the night, even if the child was not upset or needing attention.

Lead author professor Douglas Teti said: "Although we found greater support for mothers' behaviour explaining the relationship between depressive symptoms and infant night wakings, it's likely that both infants and parents influence infant sleep.

"This helps us better understand what factors influence infants' sleep in homes in which mothers are depressed.

"Sleep problems often endure beyond early childhood and can have a negative effect on various aspects of development, including emotional, behavioural, and academic functioning.

"Understanding how maternal depression and sleep problems combine to affect children's development is important to developing interventions to help reduce these negative consequences."

The findings were published in the journal Child Development.

Story posted by Robert Mair on 17/4/2012