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Durham University

Research & business

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Sleep of pre-school children: relationships to health

A research project of the Department of Anthropology.


Our focus is on exploring the behavioural mechanisms which may link sleep duration and child health, and we are particularly interested in doing so for preschool children among whom sleeping, eating and activity patterns are beginning to be established.
In preparation for a larger trial it is necessary to conduct some exploratory and feasibility studies in order to:
  • Understand what influences sleep duration among preschool children,
  • Examine whether existing interventions to promote sleep are effective (and if not to design and trial appropriate methods),
  • Explore effective and efficient ways of delivering a sleep-related intervention via community health services
  • Examine how sleep duration may be behaviourally and physiologically related to health among pre-school children.

Sleep interventions

Two sleep interventions were delivered between 2009 and 2010. One targeted parents of preschool children through Sure Start children's centres. The second targeted preschool children through local school and private nurseries. Data were collected pre and post intervention via questionnaires and interviews. A control group was also recruited for the study.

The parent intervention and was designed, delivered and evaluated via participatory research with local parents. Participatory research enabled parents to discuss and define their concerns regarding their children's sleep. Access to sleep research and resources was provided by the Sleep Lab. The participatory research group combined this information with their own experiences to generate solutions to sleep issues. This knowledge led to the group producing Sleep Solutionz materials, a series of leaflets and posters addressing common sleep issues, featuring the participatory research groups' families. These are displayed and available to parents in a number of Sure Start children's centres within Stockton-on-Tees.

The nursery intervention was designed with the input of local parents, educators and Sure Start staff. It incorporated stories, games, role play and creative activities intended to encourage children to think and talk about sleep; why we sleep, where we sleep, and when we sleep, and their own bedtimes. Children used disposable cameras to record their favourite activities at bedtime. The project provided the parents of participating children with a booklet of the activities, including photos and quotes from the children.


The success of the two interventions is currently being evaluated.