Who knows best about kids’ sleep?

14 May 2019

Parents and early childhood educators don’t see eye-to-eye on sleep practices. While 80% of Australian Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) providers set a mandatory sleep time for preschool children, 79% of parents do not want them to nap. So, who knows best when it comes to our kids’ sleep?

Professor Karen Thorpe from UQ’s Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) empathises with both parents and educators because there are no easy answers. There is compelling research evidence that sufficient sleep is needed for early childhood health and learning but the impact of the timing and nature of sleep is not well understood. “The National Quality Framework for ECEC legislates that services must make developmentally appropriate provision for sleep, but sleep needs vary between children and over time” says Professor Thorpe. “Better evidence is needed to achieve consensus for our kids”.

The Australian Research Council has funded Professor Thorpe to conduct the first Australian longitudinal study of sleep patterns in early childhood. The $705k study will follow more than 300 children over four years to identify their sleep patterns, the predictors of sleep practices, and the longer term consequences on factors such as learning, stress and emotions. The research has added power for its ability to link primary observations in ECEC settings with existing data on children’s outcomes to produce findings on a wide range of influences and effects.

Professor Thorpe is collaborating with Children’s Health Queensland (CHQ), the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), and international scholars from the University of Colorado and the University of Bristol to deliver the study. The results will achieve greater specificity about good sleep practices for early childhood development, inform policies such as the National ECEC Quality Framework, and help provide parents and educators with better knowledge and confidence to support the changing needs for children’s sleep.

Project team: Professor Karen Thorpe (UQ ISSR), Associate Professor Simon Smith (UQ ISSR), Dr Sally Staton (UQ ISSR), Associate Professor Abdullah Mamun (UQ ISSR), Dr Tony Beatton (UQ ISSR), Adjunct Associate Professor Helen Heussler (CHQ), Professor Monique LeBourgeois (University of Colorado, Boulder), Gabrielle Sinclair (ACECQA), Dr Peter Blair (University of Bristol)