Grant funds project studying infant sleep patterns and parenting

February 10, 2009

Dr. Douglas M. Teti, professor of human development and psychology, recently received a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) grant of $2,677,122 that is funding an infant sleep research project for five years.

The project, Study of Infants’ Emergent Sleep TrAjectories, phase II (SIESTA II), aims to study the role of parenting in the development of infant sleep patterns.

To collect data, researchers will visit 150 homes in the Hershey, Harrisburg, and State College areas, 25 percent of which will be minority homes. Researchers will visit each home seven times over the course of two years. Infrared cameras will be set up in participants’ homes to document several aspects of bed time and night time rituals for infants: daily bed time routines, use of close contact, soothing vs. arousing behaviors, parental reactions to infant sleep disruptions, parental emotional availability, and infant emotional reactions. Parents will also be asked to keep infant sleep diaries.

"Most literature on infant sleep patterns comes from pediatric journals, but tends to ignore perspectives from developmental science—we hope to change that," says Dr. Teti. "There’s probably not one universal formula that parents should use to promote sleep quality and well-being in infants. It’s more likely that how parents feel about their children’s sleep, and how well they adapt emotionally, plays just as large a role in the development of infant sleep as the parenting practices being used."

The researchers will test whether consistent bed time rituals will promote self-regulated sleep habits in infants, whether support from a partner enhances a mother’s ability to adapt to a temperamental infant, whether parents who don’t adapt are less emotionally available to their infants and experience more stress, and whether parents’ stress increases the number of infant sleep disruptions. They also will test the idea that cognitive functions in infants, such as the capacity for information processing, are sensitive to and influenced by sleep quality.

As part of the project, the grant will be used to fund several graduate students who will work as researchers at the University Park or Harrisburg campuses.

SIESTA I, which was funded by Penn State’s Children, Youth and Families Consortium, was a pilot study and laid the groundwork that made SIESTA II possible. Researchers established that infrared cameras would provide clear video and audio and accurately capture the emotional quality of infant and parental behaviors during the middle of the night. SIESTA I also gave the investigative team the opportunity to pilot a number of different measures and procedures currently being used in SIESTA II.

Co-investigators for SIESTA II include: Pamela Cole, professor of psychology; Cindy Stifter, professor of human development and psychology; Mike Rovine, professor of human development; Ian Paul, professor of pediatrics at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; and Thomas Anders, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis.

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Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.