Nurturing Better Sleep in Children Adopted from Foster Care   

Children adopted from foster care hold a unique place in the conversation about sleep health. Their journey from instability to permanence is not just a physical one but also involves emotional and psychological transitions that greatly impact their sleep. Recent research led by Candice A. Alfano, PhD, a member of Pajama Program’s Good Night Advisory Council, and Anthony B. Cifre, MA at the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston sheds light on this urgent issue, revealing both challenges and pathways to better sleep for these children. 

The study, involving caregivers of both children adopted from foster care and children currently in foster care, found that while certain sleep problems like nightmares and night terrors were more prevalent in children still in foster care, adopted children faced their own sleep challenges, notably more frequent nighttime awakenings. Unexpectedly, the study also found more child foster care placements were associated with lower sleep disturbance scores among adopted children; the opposite of what one would expect based on prior studies. Exploring this relationship further, the authors discovered that parents made all the difference. That is, high levels of parental involvement in sleep routines appears to provide a buffer against the negative effects of multiple foster placements on children’s sleep. A key takeaway from the research is that, for children who experience early adversity and instability, nurturing bedtime interactions with a parent affords better sleep health for children! 

The findings from Dr. Alfano and her team’s research point to a broader need for education and support for foster and adoptive families and professionals working with these families. Beyond the initial joy of bringing a child into a new home, adjustment is an ongoing process for children including developing a sense of security and trust that allow for restful sleep. Positive interactions with caregivers and regular routines around sleep help reduce sleep disturbances and strengthen the parent-child bond.  

Drawing from the collective expertise of our Good Night Advisory Council and the latest research, including Dr. Alfano’s study, programs like Fostering Sleep, an evidence-based sleep health education program for foster care staff, aim to equip caregivers with the knowledge and tools to support healthy child sleep. Fostering Sleep emphasizes the importance of creating a bedtime routine that is both comforting and consistent, offering strategies that caregivers can tailor to meet the unique needs of each child. From reading stories to gentle reassurances of safety, the program highlights the various ways caregivers can foster a conducive sleep environment. 

For adoptive families seeking guidance on improving sleep health, remember, you’re not alone. Resources and support networks are available to help you navigate these challenges and ensure your child gets the good night’s sleep they deserve, visit Pajama Program’s website for more information. You can also learn about Dr. Alfano’s trauma-informed sleep intervention, Sleep and Adjustment in Foster Environments (SAFE), available to adoptive foster families nationwide. Together, we can turn the promise of a forever home into a foundation for lifelong well-being. 

For the abstract of the research article Sleep Health among Children Adopted from Foster Care: The Moderating Effect of Parent–Child Sleep Interactions, you may read more about it and download it here

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

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