Why study sleep in young children?

The preschool and kindergarten years are full of remarkable changes - children develop complex skills in their play behavior, expression and regulation of emotions, thinking, language, and motor activity. The brain is also changing as young children mature. In early childhood, little is known about how sleep affects the brain, especially the parts of the brain that regulate emotions. The primary goal of this study is to better understand interactions between sleep, brain maturation, and emotional development in kindergarten-age children.

Who should get involved?

We are interested in children 4.0-6.9 years of age who typically sleep 9 hours or less and/or have sleep problems. Children must not be taking daytime naps and a parent must be available for at-home and University-based assessments.

How can my child qualify for the study?

In a telephone interview, we ask you questions about your child’s sleep and developmental/health history, family schedules, and parental health history. If your child is eligible, we will visit you in your home for an orientation session. We also ask you to complete questionnaires and that your child wear a wrist activity monitor for 1-week to help us determine if your child is a good fit for the study. Because this study involves 2 brain scans while your child plays a game, your child will visit the MRI Center at CU Boulder to get training in playing the game in the scanner while staying still. YES, this can be done!

Training visits

 We make brief visits to your home during the rest week of the study to slowly introduce the procedures used to measure sleep and emotion. You and your child will also come to the MRI center, where your child will learn how to perform a fun game in a “mock” scanner.

Health Education Program

You and your child will be randomly assigned (like flipping a coin) to a health education program that includes in-home visits and telephone calls. The two groups will get different sets of materials on topics such as oral hygiene, sleep health, helmet safety, and proper car seat usage.

Sleep Schedules 

In the 2-weeks following the Health Education Program, your child will follow either a “Habitual” sleep or “Extended” sleep schedule. Following this sleep schedule is a very important part of the study.

Activity Monitoring 

Your child wears a small watch-like wrist monitor for the duration of the study. This monitor records movement and lets us keep track of your child’s sleep patterns throughout the study.

Sleep Diary

You are asked to complete a brief sleep diary. Our lab contacts you each day to get a report of your child’s bedtimes and wake times.

At the beginning and the end of the study, your child will participate in several assessments:

Behavioral Tasks 

Your child will play several games on a computer screen or with a researcher to measure different aspects of cognition and emotion regulation. We will videotape your child during this assessement to get a measure of his/her facial expressions.

Brain Scan 

There are 2 parts to your child’s brain scanning session.

  1. MRI - This part will take about 30 minutes, during which time your child can rest and watch a movie. This scan provides a picture of your child’s brain.
  2. fMRI (functional scan) - This scan will let us see which brain areas “light up” or are activated  while your child plays a game that elicits dierent emotions. We will videotape your child’s face during this part of the session to measure his/her facial expressions.


Because this study requires time and effort, your family receive $150 cash at the end of the study if all assessments are complete. Your child is also frequently rewarded with small “gifts.” If you must withdraw from the study before completion, you will receive partial compensation.

Thinking your child will never do these things?

Think again! Kids love being in our studies and having special “sleep fairy” friends!!! Our research team has extensive experience working with young children and making study activities fun, rewarding, and interactive. We use games, books, and play activities to introduce your child to the study procedures and to develop rapport.

Study Location

Parts of this study will happen in your home. All brain scans will be at the Center for Innovation and Creativity, University of Colorado Boulder.


Fill out BOTH short screening forms found in the links below:



These screening forms will ask a few questions regarding your family and child’s health history and sleep patterns.  This information will help us determine if your child qualifies for the study.

Once you have completed these screening forms, a study coordinator from our lab will contact you to schedule a phone conversation. 

Want more information?

Call 303-492-4584 or email sleepdev@colorado.edu