In the study, published in the journal SLEEP, families in two Head Start programs participated in the Sweet Dreamzzz Early Childhood Sleep Education ProgramTM. The Detroit-area nonprofit organization, Sweet Dreamzzz, Inc. developed the program and offers it for free when funding allows. Head Start programs aim to give preschool opportunities to low-income families, in part to improve readiness for elementary school.
Researchers found that among 152 preschool children and their families, the sleep education program produced a 30-minute increase in sleep duration among the kids, says lead author Katherine (Wilson) DeRue, M.D., M.S., who conducted the study while a postgraduate fellow at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center and Departments of Neurology and Pediatrics.
"We know that an increase in sleep duration of that magnitude is associated with better function for kids during the day," says DeRue, who is now a pediatrician and sleep physician at IHA Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Consultants in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"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."
The study also found that parents' awareness and knowledge of good sleep behaviors also improved after program participation, but this effect was not sustained when parents were retested one month later.
The educational program included a one-time, 45-minute sleep education program for parents, and two weeks of classroom sleep education for the preschoolers. Parents were asked to keep diaries for assessment of their children's sleep habits.
"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," says Ronald D. Chervin, M.D., M.S., the study's senior author, director of the U-M Sleep Disorders Center, and a volunteer on Sweet Dreamzzz's Advisory Board.
"But repeated exposure or reminders about the sleep information may be necessary to maintain the effects for kids and especially parents over time."
This is believed to be the first study to examine the effect of a sleep education program on the sleep of preschool age children.
The Head Start programs were located in greater Lansing, Mich. and Detroit, Mich.
The lessons taught in school seemed to stick with the children. Among the lessons were recognizing 8 p.m. as the desirable bedtime; learning that an apple is a better snack before bedtime than a candy bar; and identifying reading rather than watching TV as a relaxing activity before bedtime.
"We are pleased to see that the University of Michigan researchers have been able to measure the impact of our sleep program. We know a proper sleep environment, regular bedtime routine, and the right amount of sleep hours each night can impact the future of our children," says Nancy Maxwell, executive director of the non-profit Sweet Dreamzzz, Inc.
Sweet Dreamzzz provides educational programs on sleep, along with free sleep essentials- such as sleeping bags, toothbrushes, and books about sleep -- to schoolchildren in low-income areas. Sweet Dreamzzz's main aims are to encourage better sleep - and thereby better health and learning -- at the earliest ages.
Most evidence indicates that children commonly obtain insufficient sleep, says DeRue, and this study provides a critical demonstration that minimal, relatively inexpensive interventions can make a difference.
"Family sleep education during early childhood years, when the sleep habits are being established, could prove to be a cost-effective but impactful strategy to improve children's overall health," says DeRue.
"Nutrition and exercise are commonly the focus of educational efforts to improve children's health," adds Chervin. "Good sleep - in quality and quantity -- is no less vital to our kids' future, yet it's rarely if ever discussed. Our new findings suggest that a small amount of effort to promote better sleep could have substantial benefit now, and conceivably for years to come as these youngsters grow older."
Additional authors: Julie C. Lumeng, M.D. and Allison L. Miller, Ph.D. of the University of Michigan; Karen Bonuck, Ph.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Journal reference: http://dx.doi.org/10.5665/
Funding: This study was funded by the Michigan Center for Integrative Approaches to Health Disparities and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (P60 MD002249); a Humanitarian Award from the American Sleep Medicine Foundation to Sweet Dreamzzz, Inc; a Physician Scientist Training Award to K.E.W. from the American Sleep Medicine Foundation; and by a training grant from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (5T32 NS007222).
About the U-M Sleep Disorders Center: The University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center diagnoses and treats patients who have problems with their sleep or level of alertness. The Center is among the largest academic facilities of its kind in the country and includes several parts: a number of general and more specialized Sleep Disorders Clinics; the Michael S. Aldrich Sleep Disorders Laboratory; the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Laboratory - South State Street; active training programs; and productive research projects.
About U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital: C.S. Mott moved to a new home in December 2011. The $754 million hospital features a 1.1 million square foot, 348-bed facility that is home to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, the Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital, and adult and pediatric blood and marrow transplant programs. The new hospital features a 12-story inpatient tower and nine-story clinic tower, a dedicated pediatric emergency department, an on-site Ronald McDonald House, and private rooms. The hospital also offers a new and larger home for specialty services not offered anywhere else in Michigan for newborns, children and pregnant women.
To learn more about C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, visit www.mottchildren.org
About Sweet Dreamzzz, Inc.: Sweet Dreamzzz, Inc. was founded in 2001 and is headquartered in Farmington Hills, MI. The organization is committed to improving children's health, well-being, and academic performance by providing sleep education and bedtime essentials to economically disadvantaged students and their families. Over 42,000 children ranging from preschool to 8th grade and their families have been given Sweet Dreamzzz sleep programs.
To learn more about Sweet Dreamzzz, visit www.sweetdreamzzz.org
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