Alcohol problems are prevalent in the general population, with an estimated 18.8 million Americans currently suffering from alcohol dependence or abuse ( and 1 in 4 American children exposed to problem drinking in their family (Grant, 2000). The consequences for children can be serious, including emotional and behavioral problems, but has been virtually no examination of the impact of parental problem drinking (PPD) on child sleep. Sleep is critical for healthy development and adaptive daytime functioning, yet 20% to 40% of children experience clinically significant sleep disruptions. The objectives of the current study are to address these open scientific questions regarding the relation between PPD and child sleep within an exploratory and multidisciplinary framework. Specifically, the goals are to (1) examine maternal and paternal PPD as a risk factor for children's shorter sleep duration, lower sleep quality, and erratic sleep schedule;(2) consider marital conflict and parenting as potential mediators of the association between PPD and child sleep;and (3) test whether vagal functioning (tone and withdrawal) moderates the association between PPD (and associated family dysfunction) and child sleep problems. The study will include 250 children aged 6 to 11 and their married or cohabiting parents;children will be normally developing and drawn from the broader community. Children's sleep will be assessed over the course of one week using diary reports and actigraphy. PPD, marital functioning, and parent-child relations will be measured using multiple measures and reporters, including collateral reports of drinking and conflict behavior, permitting bias-free assessments of key constructs. Well-established procedures will assess vagal tone and withdrawal in response to laboratory procedures. A number of potentially important covariates will also be assessed and included in analyses, such as parental depression, parental antisocial behavior, and child adjustment problems. Differences in relations based on parent and child gender will also be explored. The proposed study will advance understanding of child outcomes associated with PPD and contribute to the small but growing literature that demonstrates the negative effects of family stress on child sleep (PA-07- 140, Research on Sleep and Sleep Disorders) by providing the first known examination of relations between PPD and child sleep amount, quality, or schedule. Further, the proposed study will examine possible mechanisms of risk at both the interpersonal and physiological levels (PA-07-046, Research on Mind-Body Interactions and Health), providing initial evidence for processes accounting for the associations between PPD and child sleep, and identifying those children who may be at greatest risk for sleep problems in the context of PPD. Findings will provide preliminary support for more focused R01 studies, and ultimately will shed light on potential targets for intervention or prevention addressing the serious public health concerns of PPD and child sleep problems.

Public Health Relevance

Alcohol problems are a serious public health concern, yet their impact on family and child functioning are understudied. The proposed study is the first known examination between parental problem drinking (PPD) and child sleep parameters. Sleep disturbances in American children are highly prevalent, and research increasingly demonstrates their harmful effects on child functioning. However, little is known about how family stress may impact child sleep. Further, research is needed to identify mechanisms of risk involved in these influences. The proposed study examines relations between maternal and paternal PPD and child sleep quality, amount, and schedule;it also tests family relationship problems (e.g., marital and parent-child conflict) and physiological stress response (e.g., vagal tone and withdrawal) as mechanisms of risk. Findings of the proposed study will illuminate specific forms of sleep disturbances that are associated with PPD, help identify children and families at greatest risk, and lay the foundation for a focused program of longitudinal research.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-C (02))
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Haverkos, Lynne
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University of Kentucky
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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