Children who have chronic sleep problems may be much more likely to develop mental health disorders as adolescents and adults, according to Candice Alfano, associate professor in clinical psychology at the University of Houston (UH) and director of the new Sleep and Anxiety Center for Kids (SACK). To address this problem and further research in the area, Alfano opened SACK, a clinical research center at UH that provides low-cost, empirically based evaluation and treatment services for children and adolescents who struggle with anxiety and/or sleep disorders.
"We teach families about the importance of sleep and that it should be made a priority, the same way eating right and exercising are important,” Alfano said. “We teach children about sleep hygiene, which includes things like keeping the same bedtime and wake time every day, not having caffeinated drinks after lunch, and sleeping in your own bed every night. We also teach kids self-imagery and relaxation skills to deal with intrusive thoughts and feelings of restlessness when trying to fall asleep."
As a recipient of a Mentored Career Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Alfano enters year four of a 5-year research study that is examining sleep disturbances in children with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
"We are studying a total of 80 children, ages 7 to 11 years, based on several measures of sleep," Alfano said.
She completed the first half of recruitment for the project previously at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, and will be completing data collection over the next 2 years in Houston.