The Protective Role of Paternal Social Support and Bedtime Involvement in Improving Toddlers’ Sleep Quality
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Myriam Al Bcherraoui
· 5 min read

Research has found that couples who share caregiving responsibilities experience higher levels of perceived support and lower levels of stress, which in return regulates and improves their children’s sleep cycle, in terms of the time needed to fall asleep and the number of night-time awakenings

In early infancy, establishing a healthy sleep-wake cycle is one of the most important and difficult developmental milestones experienced by parents. While most infants are able to follow a healthy sleep routine during the first year of life, many other children fail to do so during toddlerhood. Usually, toddlers experience greater troubles in initiating or maintaining sleep and in returning to back sleep after waking up at night. There are various factors that contribute to these difficulties. For instance, a child’s temperament is an important predictor of sleep behaviors. Children of “easy” temperaments exhibit regular biological rhythms, which means they can easily form healthy and consistent sleeping patterns. Whereas children of “difficult” temperaments, which are characterized by a higher tendency to express negative emotionality, are more likely experience irregular sleeping patterns and diminished sleep quality (refer to the Resources for Parents section to read more about Temperament & Parenting).

Alongside the child’s individual characteristics, the behavior of parents also plays a central role in determining the child’s sleep quality and regulation. Although parents hope to create healthy sleeping behaviors for their child, it is difficult for them to set necessary rules, limits, routines.

For instance, creating bedtime routines earlier on in infancy has positive effects on children’s biological regulation. A bedtime routine is defined as consistent family patterns of behavior, in which parents involve their child in the same repeated activities on a daily basis before bed.

• Everyday night time routines significantly improve toddlers’ sleep quality.
• In preschoolers, consistent routines are associated with less night-awakening, fewer bedtime resistance, and longer night-time sleep duration.

Parental well-being and psychological functioning also play a role in children’s sleep quality. For instance, mothers and fathers with high levels of distress were more likely to experience difficult bedtime routines with their toddler. Whilst mothers who are responsive promote better sleep quality and longer bouts of nighttime sleep for their child. In addition, higher level of perceived social support for parents can help them create a positive and stable family environment, which is important for establishing healthy sleep cycles during infancy.

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In this study, 160 parents – 80 heterosexual families of toddlers between 18 and 36 months were questioned about the toddlers’ sleep quality, bedtime routines, parental bedtime involvement, and parental perceived social support and stress. The results confirmed that maternal and paternal distress are associated with the toddlers’ sleep quality, emotion regulation, night awakenings, and the time required to fall asleep. The number of times the toddler wakes up during the night and the time needed by the child to fall back asleep were significantly associated with parental distress. For instance, higher level of maternal stress is associated with bedtime difficulties, less appropriate sleep cycles, and challenging bedtime routines. Maternal stress is also a risk factor that increases the number of times children wake up during the night which in return diminishes sleep quality. Therefore, greater parental stress may predict toddlers’ night awakenings.

However, social support can act as a protective factor for parental stress. For instance, parents who feel supported by people around them express greater emotional availability towards their children. In addition, the involvement of fathers in children’s daily care predicts lower levels of stress for mothers, improves both children’s and mother’s sleep quality, and is associated with fewer night awakenings. This suggests the importance of distributing equal caregiving behaviors and responsibilities among parents. Cooperation from both sides can decrease maternal stress and positively influencing mothers’ and children’s sleep, which are related to better sleep quality for toddlers.

The following results provide us with important implications to be considered when addressing parents on their behavior towards their newborn infant’s sleep habits. It is important to guide and support families in tackling sleep disturbances and promoting healthy sleep habits early on through sharing findings on effective sleep management strategies. All of which subsequently improves children’s cognition, affect, and behavior and supports toddler’s care.


Stasio, S., Boldrini, F., Ragni, B., & Gentile, S. (2020). Predictive Factors of Toddlers’ Sleep and Parental Stress. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(7), 2494.