It has been estimated that parents of infants 3 to 4 months of age can expect their infant to begin sleeping through the night.  In rare cases infants as young as 2 months of age have sorted their sleep patterns and settled comfortably in what their parents would consider an acceptable routine.  Unfortunately, about 30% of infants between 4 to 6 months of age have not yet established a sleep pattern that is both beneficial to themselves, their parent(s) or caregivers become somewhat sleep deprived as well.

As a first time parent do you ever think to yourself, “when will he finally sleep through the night?”, “is she teething… again?”, “what am I doing wrong?”  You may wonder if your infant is sleeping worse than other infants of the same age.  You may ask yourself: is my child getting enough sleep? It sure feels like you aren’t getting enough sleep!  Are they a problem sleeper or are you simply having a harder-than-usual time dealing with it?  If you are sure they are a problem sleeper, then how bad is the problem compared to other infants with or without sleep problems?  How much sleep are you actually getting compared with your partner? These are just some of the questions that Unitec Masters students LeeAnn Jefferies and Gracela are trying to answer with their nationwide Infant Sleep Study.

“There is plenty of data available to parents regarding ‘normal’ sleep patterns of infants, however, believe it or not, there is not any data available about the sleep patterns of problematic sleepers!” says LeeAnn.  “This means that researchers and healthcare providers are unable to compare the severity of a sleep problem to others with similar problems.”  LeeAnn also explains that we don’t know how much variability there is in the sleep patterns of problem sleepers.  For example, there are plenty of things we can try to improve our child’s sleep, however, it is almost always impossible to know if babies sleep has improved because of a change in routine, or simply because the baby felt particularly calm and restful that day, or perhaps they have grown-out of stage one of development and are about to enter into another.  The problem with this is that it makes it extremely difficult to have any level of confidence about anything that is tried to improve an infant’s sleep.  It also means that researchers are unable to determine the amount of change in infant sleep that would be needed to indicate an effect, and not just natural variability.

On the other half of the sleep issue are the parents. Lack of sleep as a result of infants sleep disturbances are the prime reason that parents seek help from pediatricians, Plunket, and other sleep experts.  Gracela, mother of two, knows all too well the impact that sleeplessness has on parents.  “I lived for the day that my second daughter began eating solids because I thought that would change everything… it didn’t… and neither did anything else, until, eventually, she started crawling into bed with us every night!”

Gracela notes that “until now, the focus of parental sleep patterns has been exclusively concerned with the mother; however the sleep patterns of the partner are often overlooked.” Gracela hopes that this study will shine some light on this equally important issue.

The research project is being supported by the New Zealand Respiratory and Sleep Institute as well as Plunket, and numerous supporters have kindly donated gifts to be given to participants.

LeeAnn and Gracela are inviting couples from all over New Zealand who have one infant between 4 to 9 months of age to participate in the three-month study.  All parents will fill out sleep diaries for a period of seven consecutive days over three months and some parents will also wear a sleep/motion detector for seven consecutive days over three months.  For more information, or to apply for this study, please go to www.infantsleepstudy.co.nz.