Sleep smarts

(Edmonton) A researcher with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta has been awarded national funding to study how sleep affects neurological development right from birth.

Piush Mandhane, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the study’s principal investigator, has received a five-year, $300,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to help support his overall research, including this sleep study. So far, about 500 Edmonton-area children have been recruited for the study and Mandhane would like to find another 500.

“The broader picture is to follow those families and children to look at how sleep in early childhood affects long-term growth and development,” says Mandhane. “For example, the classic problem is the toddler who doesn’t want to sleep. We all struggle with a baby who continues to wake up multiple times a night. What we don’t know is how that impacts their long-term growth and development. At what point do we say, ‘That’s not enough sleep,’ or ‘That’s too bad and we need to do something about it.’”

Pediatric sleep problems are very common and affect up to 15 per cent of children, says Mandhane, who is a pediatric pulmonologist�a doctor who specializes in pediatric sleep and breathing problems.

Mandhane and his research team will look at length of sleep, quality of sleep and sleep problems such as sleep apnea, insomnia and behavioural issues such as toddlers not wanting to go to bed. Examining how early sleep problems occur, the severity of sleep problems and how long sleep problems last will also be part of the analysis.

Families taking part in the study will fill out quarterly questionnaires and then participate in in-home sleep studies using a portable monitoring device for their children at ages one, three and five so researchers can monitor breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels. Children will also undergo annual neurodevelopmental tests where they will play with various objects, such as blocks or bells, so researchers can observe the children’s skills in areas like language, social development and verbal communication.

“Ultimately, the hope for the project is that, if we can identify what is healthy sleep, we’ll be able to translate those findings back to the Canadian public and say here’s some ideas on when you should consider you need more help with child sleep,” says Mandhane.

Rebecca Harris’s daughter, Ainsley, is 17 months old and is taking part in the study. Ainsley has been part of the study since she was a newborn.

“I wanted to take part in the study because I like the fact that as a new mom I could have it as a resource for myself,” said Rebecca. “And for curiosity’s sake too.”

This sleep study is part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study, or CHILD study. a national study involving 5,000 children born in different parts of the country who will be followed until the age of five. The purpose of the larger study is to examine how environmental factors affect children’s health. Mandhane is one of the national principal investigators for the CHILD study and the local site leader. Any families interested in taking part in the sleep study should call 780-407-8084.