University of Arizona (UA) researchers Jamie Edgin and Caron Clark have been awarded funding for an infant sleep study through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jamie Edgin, a UA assistant professor of psychology, is conducting the “Arizona Sweet Dreams” study, which will track sleep development in typically developing and at-risk infants to determine if early sleep quality is predictive of later cognitive development or an eventual autism diagnosis. “Sleep is very important for setting up neural networks and for helping to support early language and behavioral development,” Edgin says in a release. “This study could help increase awareness of these links and encourage people to get earlier screenings for sleep problems in children.”

Edgin and co-principal investigator Caron Clark, a UA psychology research associate, will track sleep development in two groups of infants. In the first group will be typically developing infants between the ages of 6 and 24 months, a period marked with critical and rapid cognitive 2development.

In the second group will be infants in the same age range who were either born prematurely, have Down syndrome, or have siblings who have been diagnosed with autism. These infants tend to have higher rates of sleep disruptions—such as snoring or frequent night awakenings—and are at increased risk for neurodevelopmental impairment. They also are at greater risk to develop autism.

“If we find that the quality of an infant’s sleep predicts whether they are at risk for autism or learning difficulties later in life, then we can initiate intervention strategies early and start to help these children as soon as possible,” Clark says.

Those interested in enrolling in the study or learning more can send an e-mail to sweetdreamsstudy@gmail.com