Chief Program Officer, Carol Ripple, feat. on the Sleep Forum Podcast

Podcast: Pajama Program helps thousands of families with adversities get better sleep


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In this podcast, Dr. Carol Ripple, a developmental Psychologist and Chief Program Officer at Pajama Program, tells us that what really matters is “bringing what we’ve learned from research and evaluation into practice and into policy.”  It all boils down to “how we are enhancing the well-being of children and families.”

Marion asks what motivates Dr. Ripple at Pajama Program.  Dr. Ripple says, “The Head Start model is something I learned about very early on in my training, and it’s so important to me because of the whole child approach.  What we know is that it is not just about school readiness but cognitive development as well.  It is understanding that all the systems that surround a child and family really need to be right and nurturing for that child to really be able to thrive.  And that is what drives me when I came to Pajama Program and still does today.”

Marion asks Dr. Ripple to tell us about her bedtime routine and what it means to her. “Well, she continues.  I need 7 to 8 hours of sleep.  I do the usual bedtime brushing and washing and head to bed with the New York Times crossword puzzle.  That’s how I wind down at night.”

So why is the bedtime routine and sleep education so important to Pajama Program?

We know that sleep is as important as exercise and nutrition but this is true PARTICULARLY for growing children.  Dr. Ripple talks about how children need sleep to be able to thrive, grow physically and mentally, develop a strong immune system, maintain a healthy weight, just to name a few.  Sleep helps children regulate their emotions so they can have better relationships with those around them.  Sleep helps promote good memory so children can do well in school.

Dr. Ripple talks about what happens if children do not get enough sleep and that is scary.   Without sleep it makes memory and learning harder.  There is a growing body of research that shows children who are not getting enough sleep have lower test scores in math, literacy and phonics.  There is also a much higher risk for anxiety and depression.

We talked about the how important a nighttime routine is and how important it is for caregiver’s to instill this in their children.  It should be a comforting time for children and a time that signals to the child’s mind and their body that it is time for sleep.  It’s a great time to to make that connection with the child, whether it’s through a book, listening to music or another quiet activity.

When asked about a common sleep myth often heard, Dr. Ripple replies “We encounter a lot of caregivers who believe that preschool kids, for example, need 8 hours to sleep, because that’s what we always hear.  In reality, younger children need more than that.  A child in preschool should get 10 to 13 hours of sleep every day.  Pajama Program and our sleep experts spend a lot of time combating that myth.

Let’s hear more about Pajama Program, Marion says.

Dr. Ripple replies, “Pajama Program began in 2001 in New York City and is a national nonprofit.  We reach children and families across the 50 states.  Our mission is to promote and support a comforting bedtime routine and healthy sleep for children to help them thrive.  We work with children and families who are experiencing adversity, whether it’s because of low income, or housing instability, or because a children is in the welfare or foster care system, those are the children we really seek to reach with Pajama Program, because sleep, for them, is the most challenged.”

Pajama Program uses three approaches to help achieve this mission:

  1. First is sleep education for children and caregivers, stressing WHY sleep is so important.  We raise awareness around that and help with strategies for caregivers, in particular, but also to educators who are working with the parents and the children.
  2. Second is providing caring connections to children. We have Centers in New York City and Atlanta where we bring in volunteers to read with children, one on one, and teach them about a comforting bedtime routine. It’s about encouraging that warm feeling we get when we’re with somebody that we care about, and we love, and have a connection with.
  3. Third is bedtime basics, as Pajama Program calls them.  These are materials like pajamas, books, and teddy bears that serve as powerful reminder to children that it is time to wind down and sleep.

Last, but certainly not least, Dr. Ripple adds, “how incredibly fortunate we are to have a Good Night Advisory Council consisting of the top sleep experts in the country.  These professionals give so much time and expertise in helping to create the materials used at Pajama Program, give advice on programs before they are implemented and partner with us to continue doing research to develop the best possible program for these children, families and caregivers.  They keep us honest, they are scientific and evidence based.  Thank you to these professionals.”

Candice Alfano, PhD, University of Houston

Karen Bonuck, PhD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY

Ronald Chervin, MD, University of Michigan

Cynthia Cummings, Community Parents Inc., Brooklyn, NY

Innessa Donskoy, MD, Advocate Children’s Hospital, Chicago

Lauren Hale, PhD, SUNY, Stony Brook

Girardin Jean-Louis, PhD, University of Miami

Eleanor McGlinchey, PhD, Fairleigh Dickinson University

Judy Owens, MD, MPH, Boston Children’s Hospital

Rebecca Robbins, PhD, Harvard Medical School

Amy Wolfson, PhD, Loyola University Maryland

Looking towards the future, Marion asks what is up and coming at Pajama Program.

Dr. Ripple tells us that the first initiative is to continue to expand sleep health education nationally and they are looking for platforms to get the word out.  Second, they are developing a program called Fostering Sleep.  “We’re actually conducting some research now, in-house, to really understand how we can best support the foster care community whether it’s through foster care workers or foster care parents to help with the sleep for children in foster care,” says Dr. Ripple.

Children in foster care bounce from house to house, have been removed from their family of origin and are likely suffering from other traumas as well.  We know that trauma causes huge sleep problems, especially for children.  And the foster system is extremely challenging from a sleep perspective for all those involved.  Fostering Sleep should be rolled out in 2023 to bring support to that community.

Dr. Ripple concludes the podcast with her number one takeaway:  “Sleep is absolutely a matter of social justice and equity for all.  Yet inequities still exist such as unequal access to resources and insufficient housing.  Sleep costs nothing and we, at Pajama Program, believe that every child has the right to a comforting bedtime routine and sleep conditions that promote healthy sleep patterns.”

Pajama Program seeks to change this mindset by raising awareness for the importance of sleep and addressing issues through education for children, caregivers and educators to help them cope and, hopefully, overcome the challenges.

Help us support good nights for good days for all children, everywhere.