The quality of sleep, stress and mood of parents when their children need medical care

Sound sleep is important for health and wellbeing. Stress and anxiety make it harder to sleep properly which in turn causes more stress and anxiety. This can easily turn into a negative spiral that is difficult to break. 

 In the long term, sleep problems and stress can lead to cardiovascular diseases, exhaustion syndrome, diabetes and other stress-related illnesses. Parents with chronic stress not only risk their own health deteriorating; the stress can also have a negative effect on the health of their children. Sleep affects mood and cognitive functions such as memory and learning ability. These functions are of particular importance for parents who have to take crucial medical decisions and be involved in the care of their sick child.

The overall objective of my thesis is to increase knowledge more about the quality of sleep, stress, stress management ability and mood of parents when their child needs medical care. The thesis is comprised of both qualitative and quantitative studies.

Results from studies

The results from Study 1 show that parents with a prematurely born child are affected negatively by a lack of sleep and by being in a stressful environment. Being able to be together, sleeping in the same room, physical closeness and sitting skin-to-skin with their small child had a positive effect on sleep quality. This has resulted in the planning of Study 5 where we will investigate what effect continuous skin-to-skin care has on quality of sleep and mood.

In Study 2, parents with a child undergoing hospital-linked care in the home were interviewed. The parents described how disturbed sleep led to poorer memory, tiredness, less patience with the family and partner, lack of energy and depression. Changing one’s own routines to fit in with the needs of the child, support from other people, security, physical activity and time alone were important factors for good quality sleep.

In Studies 3 and 4, we study the sleep, mood, stress (cortisol) and stress management of parents who sleep over at the children and adolescents’ ward together with their child, 0-18 years, and then make a comparison in the home four weeks later.
My ambition is that my research will lead to increased understanding of parents’ needs for sleep when they are caring for their sick children and identify care measures that will facilitate sleep for parents of sick children and adolescents. Stress and lack of sleep do not only affect parents’ health and wellbeing; their ability to take care of their sick child is also affected.

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