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Mothers Report More Anxiety and Insomnia During COVID-19 Crisis

October 21, 2020

Maternal insomnia increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many mothers also reporting mild-to-high levels of acute anxiety related to COVID-19, according to a study published online in the Journal of Sleep Research.

“The results of the present study indicate that many mothers of young children are experiencing substantial negative psychosocial changes during the COVID‐19 crisis, as shown in the exacerbation of insomnia severity and the high levels of acute anxiety during the current crisis,” wrote researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and The Max Stern Yezreel Valley College in Israel. 

The study included 241 mothers in Israel who answered questions online 4 weeks into a national lockdown. Questions addressed maternal anxiety, insomnia, and sleep problems among their children aged 6 months to 6 years.

Compared with 1 or 2 months before the pandemic, the rate of maternal clinical insomnia, as indicated by an Insomnia Severity Score higher than 15, more than doubled from 11% to 23% during the pandemic, according to the study. About 80% of mothers also reported mild-to-high levels of current anxiety over COVID-19.

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“We further observed that mothers who reported an increase in insomnia symptoms had significantly higher levels of acute COVID-19 anxiety than mothers who reported no change in insomnia symptoms, while no group differences were detected in their typical (trait) anxiety levels,” said researcher Liat Tikotzky, PhD, a professor at Ben-Gurion University, “suggesting that current anxiety may contribute to the increase in severity of insomnia symptoms.”

Approximately 30% of mothers also reported a negative change in sleep quality and a lowering in sleep duration for their young children, the study found. The majority, however, reported no change in their children’s sleep quality, duration, or arrangements. A positive change in children’s sleep quality was reported by 12% of mothers, while 25% reported longer sleep duration.

Mothers with higher maternal insomnia scores were more likely to report poorer sleep quality and shorter sleep duration for their children.

“These findings emphasise the importance of further exploring familial resiliency factors that may explain the different patterns of responses in children’s and mothers’ sleep during times of crises,” researchers wrote. “This is particularly important given the role of sleep in child development and parental functioning.”

—Jolynn Tumolo 

References

Zreik G, Asraf K, Haimov I, Tikotzky L. Maternal perceptions of sleep problems among children and mothers during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic in Israel. Journal of Sleep Research. 2020 September 29;[Epub ahead of print].

Mothers facing increased anxiety & insomnia [press release]. Beersheeba, Israel: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; October 14, 2020.

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