a boy in bedHow can kids and their parents adopt healthy sleep habits? Research from the University of Michigan (UM) Sleep Disorders Center examined the effects of a sleep education program on low-income, preschool-aged children. The program increased the children’s average sleep duration for as long as a month after the educational program ended. The results suggest that helping children get enough sleep could happen with relatively simple interventions.

For the study, a non-profit organization in Detroit, Michigan, offered their Sweet Dreamzzz Early Childhood Sleep Education Program to 152 preschool children and their families. The children were enrolled in Head Start, a program that helps children from low-income families prepare for elementary school. The Sweet Dreamzzz program consisted of a one-session class for parents and a two-week classroom-based sleep education program for preschoolers. The preschoolers learned healthy sleep habits like when to go to bed (8 o’clock), what to snack on before bedtime (apples, not candy), and how to relax before sleeping (read a book). The parents kept diaries about their children’s sleep habits and completed a follow-up assessment a month after the program.

The sleep education program increased the average sleep duration by 30 minutes. The gain in sleep duration was present a month after the study. While the children maintained their gains, the parents lost theirs. Parents’ awareness and knowledge of healthy sleep behaviors were not sustained a month after the study.

“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,” explained Katherine DeRue, M.D., M.S., who conducted the study as a postgraduate fellow at UM.

The findings indicate that parents and kids may need repeated exposure to sleep education to form lasting, healthy habits. The good news is that the sleep education program is simple and inexpensive to implement. Early childhood interventions like these may have lasting impacts on children’s health and academic performance.

This research is published in the journal Sleep.

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