A new study by psychologists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in the US has found that toddlers who persistently wake up one or more times a night at least once a week, are at a greater risk for accidental injuries severe enough to require medical attention.
“The study reinforces the need to aggressively treat sleep difficulty in young children as a means to encourage not just cognitive and social development, but also to maintain physical health,” said UAB psychologist David Schwebel, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator.
In the study, published in the current advanced access edition of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, Schwebel examined a sample of 799 children (408 boys and 391 girls). The children’s parents were surveyed several times a year, beginning just after the children were born until their third birthday.
According to reports by the parents, 34% of the children were classified as having very mild to mild sleep problems. This group awakened one or more times a night at least once a week for five minutes or longer. 2% of the children were classified as having moderate to severe sleep problems, waking up at least twice a night, three or more times a week and remaining awake for 15 minutes or longer each time.
The study found that the children with very mild to severe sleep problems had nearly twice as many injuries as the 511 children in the study (64%) who did not have sleep problems.
The link between sleep patterns and injury risk was demonstrated even when the researchers controlled for variables such as socioeconomic status, parenting styles and maternal stress and depression, Schwebel said.
More studies are needed to find out whether fatigue or other possibilities such as parent behaviour, children’s personality or conditions in the home play a role in creating the link between night time awakenings and injuries.