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Infant Sleep Disturbance (ISD) Proposal

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Updated: Jul 19th, 2019


Infant Sleep Disturbance (ISD) is a common problem in psychology. Infants who have this problem may significantly disrupt family life, as they demand a lot of attention from parents and those around them. Past findings from sleep laboratories show insignificant differences between infant sleep disorders and sleep disorders among older children, or adults (Heller, 2013).

It is difficult to differentiate normal and abnormal sleep disorders among infants because these disorders manifest differently, and at different developmental stages. However, sleep disorders that manifest as unsatisfactory sleeping habits appear to be more common in infants.

Since ISD is a common occurrence, many scientific studies have delved into the condition to explain its causes and solutions. Most of such studies highlight maternal relations, environmental factors, and infant characteristics as the main variables that affect ISD (Heller, 2013; Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg, 2010).

While the need to evaluate the effects of the above variables on studies that explore infant sleeping disorder is important, the multiplicity of different variables in ISD findings often confuses parents and caregivers when they have to identify the most effective basis for managing the condition.

This paper draws on the findings of previous researchers by affirming that infant, parent, and environmental factors affect sleep disorders for infants aged six to 36 months. Thus, this paper proposes a research study to identify the most significant variable that has the greatest effect on sleep disorders among this group of infants.

Purpose of Study

The main purpose of conducting the proposed study is to provide a platform for the easy identification of the most effective intervention for managing ISD. Indeed, by understanding the extent of environmental factors, infant characteristics, and maternal relations on infant sleeping disorders, it would be easy to provide the basis for the formulation of the most effective intervention for managing the condition.

The uniqueness of this study stems from the fact that it would provide a clear understanding of the most effective intervention/basis for physicians and parents to pursue in the management of sleep disorders among infants aged three to 36 months. This way, it would be possible to have a clear picture of the most effective intervention to manage ISD.

Therefore, the proposed study aims to adopt a holistic understanding of sleep disorders among infants by categorizing the most significant variables for the identification of effective interventions. Comparatively, other studies have only explored the role of specific variables, like maternal relationships and environmental factors on sleeping disorders without explaining the extent that such variables help to manage ISD.

Research Question

  • To explore the extent that infant, parent, and environmental factors affect sleeping disorders among infants aged three to 36 months

Research Objectives

  • To explore the extent that infant characteristics affect sleeping disorders
  • To understand the importance of maternal relations in formulating interventions to manage sleep disorders
  • To explain the extent that environmental factors play in exacerbating, or inhibiting, sleeping disorders among infants


  • Maternal relations play the greatest role in understanding sleeping disorders among infants

Literature Review

Previous researches that have investigated ISD have identified maternal relationships and environmental factors as the most common variables in ISD research. One article that investigated patterns of developmental changes in infants (6-36 months old) identified intrinsic variables as the main causes of ISD (Siegler et al., 2010).

In detail, the article highlighted temperament variability, environmental factors, and maternal variables as the main factors affecting ISD. Heller (2013) agrees that the relationship between mothers and infants is a common predictor of sleep pattern disorders among 3-36 month old infants.

He also highlights a father’s presence, quality of childcare, and birth orders as common issues that affect sleep pattern disorders among the same group of infants (Heller, 2013). Similar studies that have used the same variables to investigate behavioral sleep patterns among infants say sleep disorders may be more common than perceived by parents (Siegler et al., 2010).

For example, Thiedke (2001) investigated stability and predictive factors that affected infant sleeping habits and found out that socioeconomic status was not a predictor of sleeping disorders among 3-36 months old infants.

Instead, he proposed that maternal relations and breastfeeding habits had a major role to play in defining sleep patterns (Thiedke, 2001). Similar studies show that demographic variables have insignificant effects on sleeping disorders among infants within the first 12 months of their birth (Heller, 2013).

The influence of maternal associations on sleep disorders has also emerged in other independent studies that analyze sleep disorders among infants. For example, an article investigating frequent night awakenings in infants and preschool children identified non-adaptive sleep associations and maternal relations as two common variants affecting sleep disorders (Heller, 2013).

The article also said unpleasant engagements between parents and infants enforced sleep awakening among infants (Heller, 2013). Studies that have also investigated maternal relationships show that about 95% of infants would not sleep if they have not experienced any type of maternal interaction (Thiedke, 2001). Thiedke (2001) says this finding is largely true for infants less than 15 months old.

When the infants reach 15 months, the statistics change because evidence shows that the percentage of infants who would not sleep without maternal interactions reduces from 90% to 75% (Thiedke, 2001). Conversely, this statistic shows that about 30% of infants would not self soothe to sleep without maternal interactions.

Observers weakly understood the correlates of maternal relationships in the association of maternal relationships with sleep disorders among infants. Some researchers, for example, have used rapid eye movements among infants to dispel the idea that the role of maternal interactions in the development of ISD is a mere byproduct of sleep consolidation (Heller, 2013).

Here, features of the mother-infant relationship emerge as correlates that affect the influence of maternal relationships on sleep disorders. Evidence also shows that insecure attachment to a mother should be an important variable to consider in the understanding of the above relationship (Siegler et al., 2010).

To assess the influence of this insecurity, Thiedke (2001) conducted a study of 94 pairs of mothers and their infants and found out that the insecurity of infant-mother attachment influenced the severity of sleeping disorders among infants aged 3-36 months.

Maternal relations have therefore dominated most of the research that has delved into the details of ISD. The hypothesis of the proposed study therefore stems from the same opinion.


Study Design

The proposed research will be a prospective cohort study that follows the lives of a group of respondents to establish infant sleeping behaviors for a group of selected respondents (the study involves longitudinal observations over a long time) (Doll, 2001). The prospective cohort study will use a mixed research approach.

Stated differently, the proposed study intends to use qualitative and quantitative approaches to collect and analyze data. The greatest motivation for using the mixed research approach is its ability to match the purpose of the method to the research objectives.

For instance, this design will be useful in providing a feel of the study before undertaking an in-depth analysis of the same. Furthermore, the proposed mixed methodology would help to triangulate the findings of the study and improve the validity of the responses (Northwest Nazarene University, 2013). The sound relationship between the quantitative approach and the qualitative approach is therefore invaluable for the proposed study.

Data Collection

This paper aims to gather primary data through observation and surveys. Since it is important to understand sleep disorders among infants at different stages of their growth, the proposed study aims to observe infant behavior at five stages of their development. The study intends to make the observations when the infants are one month, six months, 12 months, 24 months, and 36 months old.

Observation will be an important data collection method for the intended study because it would provide information regarding the sleeping behaviors of infants, if parents leave the infants alone in a room, and if the parents are available in the room. Through such an analysis, the proposed study would test significant variables, such as parent-infant attachment.

To assess environmental factors affecting ISD, the study intends to give 50 mothers a questionnaire (survey) that would gather significant pieces of information regarding an infant’s environment. The study would use the same questionnaire to gather useful pieces of information regarding infant characteristics.

This way, it would be easy to compare environmental factors, maternal relations, and environmental factors at the same time. Significant questions that would appear in the questionnaires include an assessment of whether the infant woke up the mother in the last week of conducting the survey, or not, and an assessment of the nature/frequency of interaction between the mother and the child.


Through a purposeful sampling technique, the proposed study aims to recruit respondents from all over the country to participate in the study. The participants would come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and geographical regions to have an unbiased assessment of important variables (such as maternal health, maternal education, poverty, and family size) that affect ISD.

The mean age of the participants would be 30 years because the study aims to gather the views of new mothers. Because of the widespread geographical area needed to reach these respondents, the proposed study will use online surveys to gather their views.

Proposed Data Analysis

Data transformation will be the main data analysis technique for the proposed study. This method involves the transformation of one type of data into another (to allow for easy statistical and thematic analyses).

Northwest Nazarene University (2013) says this analysis method is highly appropriate for studies that use the mixed method approach because it allows for easy integration of quantitative and qualitative data. In detail, the data transformation method will make it possible to transform qualitative findings into numerical ratings (to analyze such data with quantitative assessments).

Insights into infant sleep patterns mainly depend on maternal reports on the same. Thiedke (2001) says previous reports on ISD normally underestimate the frequency of sleep disturbances, but rarely do they distort the same observation.

Evidence of maternal relations would therefore emerge from an analysis of three different reports that would include ISDs that occurred in the past week, the extent of the ISDs, and the impact of the ISDs on the mothers.

After the assessment of these variables, the proposed study intends to use Zuckerman’s criterion for understanding the severity of ISDs. This criterion outlines that three disruptions constitute a sleep problem. The same criterion outlines that a sleep problem exists when a child is awake for more than one hour (Thiedke, 2001).


The expected results could follow the hypothesis laid out in this paper. In other words, the results could affirm the importance of maternal relations as the most important factor affecting ISD for infants aged 6-36 months.

Environmental influences and infant characteristics could therefore emerge as the secondary influences of sleeping disorders among the sampled infants. Through the affirmation of this hypothesis, this research would add to the growing body of literature surrounding the importance of maternal relations in solving ISD.


The results of the proposed study would help to understand the importance of maternal relations in ISD. If the study affirms the importance of this relation to infant sleeping habits, a new frontier for identifying the most effective methods for correcting ISDs would emerge.

This way, medical practitioners and physicians would be able to formulate effective interventions for correcting the disorder, while avoiding the confusion of proposing different types of interventions.

If the proposed study fails to uphold maternal relations as the most significant intervention for correcting ISD, the role/significance of environmental influences and infant characteristics would emerge. This way, it would be easier to identify the most effective intervention to pursue when advising parents on the most effective intervention for correcting ISD.


Doll, R. (2001). Cohort studies: history of the method. I. Prospective cohort studies. Soz Praventive med, 46(2), 75-86.

Heller, K. (2013). . Web.

Northwest Nazarene University. (2013). Benefits and Challenges of Mixed Methods Research. Web.

Siegler, R., DeLoache, J., & Eisenberg, N. (2010). How Children Develop. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Thiedke, C. (2001). Sleep Disorders and Sleep Problems in Childhood. Am Fam Physician, 63(2), 277-285.

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