Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that an innovative sleep education program targeting preschoolers extended the children’s nightly sleep by thirty minutes.
The study, which was recently published in the journal Sleep, was instituted through the Head Start program, and included a single 45-minute educational program aimed at parents and supplemented by two weeks of in-class programming aimed at children. The study, which involved exposing the kids to a program titled Sweet Dreamzzz, involved 152 children. The program’s success was measured through diaries that the parents were asked to keep, tracking their children’s sleep.
Sweet Dreamzzz is a non-profit organization dedicated to making a difference in the health and well being of children by providing economically disadvantaged students with education about sleep. The program operates on the belief that getting the right amount of sleep each night helps children learn better, feel better and play better. It is based on sleep science that has shown that sleep leads to a higher risk of obesity and other health conditions, and robs children of cognitive acuity. The program specifically targets kids preschool age on up through the 5th grade, and is provided through volunteers who come into their schools and educate through interactive games and activities. Each child is given a special sleep kit, which includes a nightshirt, sleeping bag, toothbrush and toothpaste, a teady bear and reading book, and more. The program is free of charge, and also educates parents and teachers.
Katherine De Rue was a postgraduate fellow at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center and Departments of Neurology and Pediatrics when she originally conducted the study. Ms. De Rue is now a pediatrician and sleep physician at IHA Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Consultants in Ann Arbor. She said, “We know that an increase in sleep duration of that magnitude is associated with better function for kids during the day. Parents often underestimate how much sleep their kids require, so an educational program like this, directed at parents when they have more control over their kids’ sleep schedules, can have great impact.”
One of the things that the study’s authors noted was that despite the successful impact of the educational program, when parents were retested on what they had learned thirty days later, their knowledge had dissipated. Said Ronald D. Chervin, M.D., M.S., the study’s senior author and director of the U-M Sleep Disorders Center, “So we found that a two-week program of daily exposure to sleep education in the preschool classroom, along with an initial presentation for parents, can be an effective strategy. But repeated exposure or reminders about the sleep information may be necessary to maintain the effects for kids and especially parents over time.”