Fostering Sleep: A Look into Sleep Health in the Foster Care System

“I don’t know why people say bedtime for kids is hard. All I have to do is make sure the room is exactly 71.3 degrees, give 3 hugs, 1.5 kisses, read 11 bedtime stories, come up with a Broadway musical on the spot, tuck them in, and leave for 5 minutes before bringing them to my bed.”

-Jessica Carpenter, Creator of Blog “Mom Life”

by Priscilla Rigos, Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology, Fairleigh Dickinson University

Though painting a comical picture of a labor-intensive nighttime ritual, this is not an uncommon scenario. With busy schedules, tired parents, alluring electronic devices, and elusive routines, bedtime can be challenging for many families. Most caregivers will say that a lack of sleep, whether their own or their children’s, leaves everyone feeling cranky, irritable, and sluggish the next day. This is truer than ever now, with families facing increased stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond the day-to-day challenges, poor sleep has long-term impacts on children’s development, well-being, and overall health.

Even though we know a lot about how important sleep is for children, it can be hard for parents and caregivers to find ways they can improve their children’s sleep. Pediatricians may not ask about sleep health during routine visits, leaving caregivers wondering about the “right” thing to do for the child in their care to ensure they are getting quality sleep.

This is particularly true for foster/kinship caregivers. Adapting to unfamiliar environments poses unique challenges to foster children and families, and that often means trouble with sleep. In fact, research shows that 54 percent of children in foster care have some type of sleep problem such as difficulty falling asleep, short sleep duration, bedtime resistance, or nightmares. However, little is known about sleep among children in foster care, and even pediatric sleep researchers do not yet fully understand the specific challenges facing foster families. The information and treatment strategies that are currently available may not apply to the unique experiences these families face each night at bedtime.

To better understand the unique sleep patterns and problems of children in foster care, and in partnership with Pajama Program, our research team has launched the Sleep Health among Children in Foster Care studyLed by Amy Wolfson (Loyola University of Maryland), Ellie McGlinchey (Fairleigh Dickinson University), and Candice Alfano (University of Houston)our team of faculty and students is exploring sleep health and sleep-based problems and behaviors of children in foster/kinship care. Our goal is to develop sleep-focused support/intervention materials for foster/kinship caregivers that address common sleep problems experienced by children in foster care. We are excited to have this opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of foster families everywherestay tuned for updates on our study!

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