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Hope College profs study preschooler sleep habits

Holland Sentinel • Dec 30, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Two Hope College professors and their students are trying to help parents of preschoolers make sure their children have good sleep hygiene.

Psychology professors Sonja Trent-Brown and Dr. Andrew Gall, with assistance from 13 Hope students and participation from 73 Holland-area preschoolers, studied preschooler sleep habits for 12 weeks this fall.

Parents kept journals of their child’s sleep routines, light/sound exposure at night and daily socioemotional interactions. Preschoolers also wore a Fitbit around their ankles for the 12 weeks, which digitally recorded their activity patterns during the day, and their number of awakenings and time spent awake during the night and nap time.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 77 percent of preschoolers experience sleep-related disruptive behaviors at least a few nights a week. It’s hoped that the study will help parents know how to develop good sleep hygiene in their children. Good sleep hygiene is defined as consistent bedtime and morning rising times, and avoiding large meals, caffeine, and light sources before bedtime.

“Very few studies have examined sleep patterns in preschoolers in their home environments,” said Gall, who specializes in the neuroscience of sleep.

Funded by a $32,500 grant from the Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood, the study also involved Hope students visiting two Holland preschools to test the participants on memory performance tasks, in order to see how good sleep affected behavior.

Trent-Brown and Gall, as well as their students, will look over the data in the spring semester and reach their conclusions. The results will be in scholarly publications, but Trent-Brown and Gall also want to write children’s books about good sleep to reach more families.

“This project is very close to our hearts,” said Trent-Brown who specializes in early childhood development. “We’ve both experienced the joys and challenges of parenting preschoolers. We want for other parents to have the opportunity to learn more about their children and themselves.”

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