Recent research from Australia may open a new front in the battle over bedtime. There is no doubt that parents have the most significant impact on the sleep hygiene and habits of young children. There is also significant research indicating that poor sleep patterns and low quality sleep impacts the ability to learn and affects school performance. The intent of this University of Melbourne study was to determine if proactive sleep counseling could make a difference in the sleep habits of children.
The research team surveyed 1500 families before selecting 108 who had incoming first graders with moderate to severe sleep issues. Children suffering from serious disorders, like sleep disordered breathing, which impact their sleep, were excluded. The team selected this age group because the sleep issues experienced by 5-6 year olds are generally behavior related. The most frequent sleep issues experienced by this group are going to bed too late, lack of a consistent bedtime routine, and a parent remaining in the room until the child has fallen asleep.
The focus of the study was to offer individual sleep counseling to families at the start of the school year to see if this proactive approach made a difference in the children’s sleep issues and their transition to elementary school. This group was chosen because the timing offers an excellent window of opportunity to establish good habits that can carry forward throughout a child’s entire school career.
Participants were split into two groups. The first group received an individual counseling session to strategize about the specific sleep problems of the child and identify solutions for resolving their issues. These families also received follow-up phone calls to support their success. The second group received no assistance. The primary finding of the study was that this proactive counseling made a short term difference in sleep issue resolution.
Over the course of the school year, parents in both groups completed additional surveys and at the 6 month mark, all participating children were given a learning assessment. While more than two-thirds of the sleep issues in both groups were resolved over the year, the children whose parents participated in the counseling made faster progress. At the six month mark, 47% of the second group were still experiencing moderate to severe sleep issues as compared to only 26% of the first group.
By the end of the year, the results of both groups evened out with about one third of all participants continuing to experience sleep problems. The study also found no differences in the learning assessment results between the two groups. The researchers concluded that the counseling helped children be less resistant to bedtime and decreased the time it took them to fall asleep over the short term by providing parents with strategies and support.
While the study group was relatively small, the findings are conclusive enough to form the basis for additional research projects. Future studies will investigate the impact early intervention and counseling has on longer term academic performance.
About Valley Sleep Center:
Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients. Their Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists consist of experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice across a multitude of sleep related disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hypertension, sleepwalking, and pediatric sleep problems. They accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare. For more information contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900; http://www.valleysleepcenter.com.
- Sleep Habits in Children (SleepFoundation.org)
- Parental Counseling May Help Kids’ Sleep (moneycontrol.com)