Longitudinal relations between maternal depressive symptoms and child sleep problems: the role of parasympathetic nervous system reactivity


  • Conflicts of interest statement: No conflicts declared.



We examined maternal depressive symptoms (MDS) as longitudinal predictors of actigraphy-measured sleep; children's respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) was tested as a moderator of these relations.


A total of 271 children (145 boys and 126 girls) participated in a three-wave study (M age at T1 = 9.38 years), with a 1-year lag between waves. Children wore actigraphs to derive sleep parameters. RSA reactivity was assessed during a social stress test.


Contrary to hypotheses, MDS were related to less sleep over time for children exhibiting greater RSA withdrawal. Consistent with hypotheses, MDS were related longitudinally to decreased sleep activity for children exhibiting less RSA withdrawal.


Findings illustrate the importance of maternal influences and physiological regulation as predictors of children's sleep.