Sleep disturbances are more likely in babies born to mothers with depression than in those of mothers without depression, according to a new report.
Whether this places the infants at greater risk for childhood depression remains to be seen.
The findings come from a study of 18 healthy, full-term infants who had their sleep behavior evaluated with actigraphy, to monitor how much they moved about, for 7 consecutive days on a monthly basis for 24 weeks.
In addition, the babies' mothers kept daily diaries of their sleep/wake periods.
Eleven of the infants were born to mothers with depression, while the other seven had no family history of depression, Dr. Roseanne Armitage, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues note in their report in the medical journal Sleep.
The researchers found that infants of depressed mothers took longer to fall asleep than those of non-depressed mothers (about 80 minutes versus 20 minutes) and had more awakenings in the nighttime sleep period (approximately 4 versus 2). These differences persisted throughout the full 24-week study period.
"Although there are many environmental and social factors that can influence infant sleep and behavior, this study is a first step toward characterizing the influence of maternal depression," the investigators write.
If further research shows that the infants with disturbed sleep are prone to depression themselves, the authors note, it will then be important to determine if the sleep problem can be modified.
SOURCE: Sleep, May 2009. (Reuters Health)