The proposed study will measure maternal sleep with the innovative and objective method of actigraphy bracelets to determine how sleep might affect mothers’ executive functioning, responsiveness, and parenting. Executive functioning involves complex cognitive processes, reflecting a parent’s working memory, impulse control, set shifting, and ability to inhibit a dominant response for a sub-dominant one (Bernier et al., 2013). Sleep deficits greatly impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is critical for executive functioning (Horne, 1993). Because sleep affects executive functioning and this higher level of cognitive processing may be critical for ...view middle of the document...
Understanding the role of sleep on maternal functioning is crucial because sleep can be greatly affected by the variety of stressors mothers might uniquely face, including work-family conflict, a difficult child, and a chaotic and over-stimulating home. It is widely known that stress can affect sleep (Mezick et al., 2009), and mothers may be especially impacted by stress. In fact, Nomaguchi found in 2009 that women in 1997 experienced significantly greater work-family conflict with increasing hours of paid work than their female working counterparts did in 1977. This difference is perhaps due to the modern expectation for mothers to “do it all” and be “super moms”. With increasing pressure to perform at home and in the workplace, it seems intuitive that mothers might, in particular, experience sleep deficits and impaired functioning in response to such stress.
Further, mothers of toddlers face a unique challenge, as toddlers are actively developing increasing autonomy and willfulness. This development of progressively more mobile, talkative, and wayward children may add to the stress and chaos mothers regularly face. Even more specifically, mothers high in negative affect might be particularly sensitive to stress, affecting their sleep. Additionally, these negative mothers may be especially sensitive to sleep deficits, greatly impacting their parenting and responsiveness to their child. Preliminary work has shown that mothers who were low in positive affect were more susceptible to sleep deprivation, showing less positive parenting when they were sleep deprived than when they were not (Bates, 2013). Likewise, mothers high in negative affect may experience related declines in their parenting when exposed to sleep deficits and other types of stress, beyond sleep deprivation.
Chaos and stress faced in the home are also important to consider because crowded, noisy homes with high levels of traffic may relate to parental responsiveness and attention to children. This relationship may exist because such environments cause parents to habituate to high levels of stimulation in the home. They may not readily recognize the needs of their children amid this figurative and literal noise. Parents in such environments may feel helpless and less motivated to actively engage with their children (Ruff & Rothbart, 1996). Further, so many competing events, noise, and constant activity may lead to lack of sleep and fatigue, lowered tolerance for demands, and difficulty attending to children (Wachs, 1993).
Sleep is also imperative to study because if it presents as significantly influential on maternal functioning, it could serve as a key target for interventions in the future. For example, clinicians could encourage mothers, even those mothers exposed to high levels of stress or who are high in negative affect, to get more consistent sleep. This small change might greatly improve mothers’ parenting styles by improving their...