Providing comfort and rest for a better tomorrow



By Thomas M. Heffron
Monday, June 4, 2012

One of four ASMF Humanitarian Projects Awards for 2011 was given to Sweet Dreamzzz, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health, well-being and academic performance of school-aged children by providing sleep education and bedtime essentials. Believing that a good night’s sleep is the right of every child, Sweet Dreamzzz developed the Early Childhood Sleep Program to serve the low-income areas of Detroit and southeast Michigan by providing comfort and rest for a better tomorrow.

The Early Childhood Sleep Program is based on the principles and success of Sweet Dreamzzz’s R.E.M. Sleep Program, which has provided sleep education and bedtime essentials to 31,000 at-risk elementary school students from 70 schools throughout the metro-Detroit area. The R.E.M. Sleep Program uses interactive activities to teach students why and how to get a good night’s sleep. Recognizing that many children in impoverished urban communities have no bed or no sleep space of their own, Sweet Dreamzzz also provides each child with a sleep kit, which contains nighttime basics that low-income families may not otherwise be able to afford.

To expand on the ideals of this program and have an even larger impact on the sleep habits of low-income children, Sweet Dreamzzz developed the Early Childhood Sleep Program. It will provide the appropriate sleep information and bedtime materials so that Head Start students, parents, and teachers can work cooperatively to help preschoolers get the sleep they need. Establishing appropriate sleep routines and expectations at preschool ages will put at-risk children on the road to healthier lifestyles and more effective learning in kindergarten.

The framework for the program comprises concepts and instructional tools that were developed by graduate students of Monica Tracey, PhD, associate professor in instructional technology at Wayne State University. The ASMF Humanitarian Projects Award will enable Sweet Dreamzzz to test the pilot program in Detroit by working with The Foundation for Early Learners Head Start Centers’ teachers, students and families.

Program participants will include teachers and their teaching assistants, 3 to 5 year-old preschool students, and the parents and guardians of those students. Through the Early Childhood Sleep Program, Sweet Dreamzzz will teach Head Start participants why sleep is important, and how children should get ready for bed each night. Separate teacher and parent training sessions will take place on-site. Student instruction will occur over a two-week period in the Head Start classrooms during normal school hours.

The program also will provide families with a sleep kit that contains night-time essentials such as a sleeping bag, night shirt, socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and teddy bear. The unique experience of having practical take-home materials will help considerably in making the associated lessons more memorable.

While developing the Early Childhood Sleep Program, Sweet Dreamzzz has received ongoing assistance and input from AASM members Ronald Chervin, MD, and Katherine Wilson, MD, at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center. To determine the effectiveness of the program, research data will be analyzed by a biostatistician. The primary study outcome will be increase in sleep time per night.

Eventually the reach of the Early Childhood Sleep Program could extend far beyond Detroit. There are more than 15,000 students in the Head Start centers of Southeast Michigan, and more than 904,000 students in Head Start programs nationwide. Because Sweet Dreamzzz provides each participating center with all of the training, instructional materials, classroom tools, and take-home items necessary to incorporate the Early Childhood Sleep Program into its curriculum, the program can be replicated easily at any Head Start location in the country.

Learn more about Sweet Dreamzzz at http://www.sweetdreamzzz.org/.