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Infant sleep patterns and parenting focus of study

Infants' sleep patterns and their parents' influence on it are the focus of the SIESTA II project, supported by a five-year, $2.67 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to Douglas M. Teti, professor of human development and psychology, Penn State.

SIESTA II -- Study of Infants' Emergent Sleep Trajectories, Phase II -- will study the role of parenting in the development of infant sleep patterns. Researchers will visit 150 homes in the Hershey, Harrisburg and State College areas to collect data and 25 percent of the homes will have minority families. Researchers will visit each home seven times in two years. Infrared cameras in participants' homes will document several aspects of bed time and night time rituals for infants including 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 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 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 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 do not adapt are less emotionally available to their infants and experience more stress, and whether parents' stress increases the number of infant sleep disruptions. They will also 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 makes 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 in 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, all from Penn State; Ian Paul, professor of pediatrics, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and Thomas Anders, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, University of California, Davis.


Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
Penn State

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