OD3 Perfect bedfellows: Combining sleep health advocacy and education for children


Deficient or “poor” sleep may be defined as chronic insufficient sleep compared to developmentally appropriate sleep needs, misalignment between an individual’s circadian rhythms and external demands, poor quality sleep or a combination of all these factors. Deficient sleep is now identified as a major public health issue, affecting physical and mental health, safety, performance, and quality of life. In particular, the impact of deficient sleep in children and   adolescents across the pediatric age spectrum is a critical issue with well-established major short-term and long-term consequences involving key domains of development, physical mental, emotional and social. Furthermore, marginalized pediatric populations including regional and indigenous, racial, and ethnic minorities, and those living in poverty are particularly vulnerable, with higher prevalence rates of poor and deficient sleep in these populations. 1,2,3 These children are further disadvantaged, given the limitations on access to care. 

The term “sleep health” can be interpreted as a means to prevent sleep problems or sleep disorders from occurring or worsening if already present. However, a broader definition of sleep health has recently emerged, as a concept that recognizes and addresses the underlying causes and consequences of poor or deficient sleep, and includes satisfaction with (subjective “quality”), timing, duration, and continuity of sleep as well as daytime alertness.4 Sleep health education thus may be viewed as a construct that has these basic tenets as its’ foundation, and is designed to provide the knowledge and skills to make the behavior changes necessary for optimizing sleep, mitigating the adverse effects of deficient sleep and preventing the development of unhealthy sleep habits. While early initiation of sleep health education efforts targeting children would logically seem likely to have a major and sustained impact, there is a relative dearth of effective messaging about children’s sleep health for caregivers. This identifies a gap in sleep health education. Improving caregivers’ knowledge of sleep as a pillar of health and providing them with the tools needed to implement healthy sleep practices (such as regular bed and wake times, bedtime routines, avoidance of screens before bed) are proposed strategies for improving children’s general health and functioning. There is also a great need for culturally sensitive and culturally adapted education that advocates for sleep health. 

A potential conduit through which principles of sleep health may be messaged includes NGO organizations focused on promoting sleep in children. The interface between sleep health advocacy and sleep health education for children provides opportunities for an important and often overlooked partnership. While sleep-based charitable organizations often understandably focus on  the delivery of tangible materials (bedding, transitional objects, bedtime books, etc.) to families in need, the opportunity to simultaneously deliver implicit and explicit messages regarding the importance of sleep, especially in vulnerable populations such as children living in poverty, is potentially highly relevant and impactful. Within these partnerships, there also exist opportunities to conduct research, including identifying the most appropriate content and format for delivering key sleep health messages to different populations and communities, and for informing public policy at both local and national levels. 

In this symposium, we will review key “lessons learned” in developing sleep advocacy/health messaging partnerships, present an overview of the potential opportunities to merge sleep health education and sleep advocacy in children, develop related research agendas and ultimately impact public health policy (Owens),  describe the evidence supporting the impact on sleep knowledge and behavior of a highly successful existing advocacy program (Bonuck; SweetDreamzzz), describe the groundwork and collaborative efforts necessary to build strong partnerships (Ripple; Pajama Program), review cross-cultural challenges in messaging (Will-Dryden; Sleeping Children Around the World), and describe the relationship between marketing and messaging in developing a successful national sleep health campaign (Moore: Australia). 

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this CME activity, participants should be able to:

      • List potential advantages of developing pediatric sleep health advocacy and education partnerships
      • Describe measurable outcomes relevant to children’s sleep health that could be incorporated into sleep-related non-profit programs
      • List the major components of successful messaging in a national sleep education campaign

Target Audience

Health Professionals, academics, researchers


Judith A. Owens (United States)

Lessons learned from 2+ decades of sleep health advocacy

Judith A. Owens (United States)

Community health partnerships to improve sleep in early childhood

Karen Bonuck (United States)

Expanding the scope and mission of sleep health advocacy for children

Carol Ripple (United States)

Opportunities and challenges in promoting sleep health across cultures

Debbie Will-Dryden (Canada)

Putting kids’ sleep problems to bed: Where to from here

Sharon Moore (Australia)

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