Sleep quality, anxiety, somatic symptoms, and features of brain structure in parents of children with disabilities

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Jing Zhou
Shaohua Gao
Tongda Sun
Weiwei Gao
Wenxiu Fu
Zhiguo Ying
Wenqin Mao
Cite this article:  Zhou, J., Gao, S., Sun, T., Gao, W., Fu, W., Ying, Z., & Mao, W. (2022). Sleep quality, anxiety, somatic symptoms, and features of brain structure in parents of children with disabilities. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 50(6), e11557.


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We investigated sleep quality, anxiety, and somatic symptoms of 330 parents of children aged 0–6 years with disabilities, and explored the features of their brain structure using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index Scale, the Patient Health Questionnaire-15, and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7. We compared these results with those of a control group of parents (n = 330) of children with typical development. The parents of children with disabilities were divided into a poor-sleep-quality subgroup and a good-sleep-quality subgroup, and then 20 parents from each subgroup were randomly selected for analysis of variance of magnetic resonance imaging scanning. There were significant positive correlations between scores on the three scales for the parents of children with disabilities, and their mean scores for all scales were also significantly higher than those of the control group. Moreover, among the parents of children with disabilities, those with poorer sleep quality had lower density of gray matter in brain regions related to emotional cognition. These results suggest that parents raising children with disabilities may have poorer sleep and be more likely to have somatic symptoms and generalized anxiety than are parents of children with typical development; furthermore, these effects may correspond to changes in brain structure.

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