Juulia Paavonen

All children can be helped to sleep better

Juulia Paavonen
HUS, Lasten ja nuorten sairaudet

Docent Juulia Paavonen’s research group studies sleep in small children, and the development of sleep patterns and sleep quality. Few long-term studies on sleep in small children have been made, though sleep problems are very common in small children.

The aim of researchers is to improve the screening and treatment of pediatric sleep disorders.

– We attempt to find out how common sleep disorders are in children and what factors affect their prevalence. We want to develop the screening and treatment for pediatric sleep disorders, Juulia Paavonen says.

Sleep is also being studied in terms of children’s early psychosocial development. Researchers are also interested in finding out how sleep disorders may predict the disordered regulation of attention or behaviour later in life.

According to the study, sleep disorders are very common in early childhood and are slowly reduced towards the age of two years.

New information has been received on the connection between families’ daily customs and habits and better quality of sleep. For instance, regular evening routines seem to be beneficial to children at a very early stage.

Occasionally, sleep disorders are related to genetic features or temperamental features.

– However, the family’s habits are important. All children with sleep-related problems can be helped to sleep better by focusing on the type of daily life which would best support good sleep patterns for these particular children, Juulia Paavonen states.

The parents may be reassured by the study results which indicate that waking up at night in early childhood is not related to poorer cognitive development at the age of two years.

Are there differences in sleep patterns between boys and girls?

In an epidemiological study, Paavonen’s group focuses on examining the prevalence of various sleep disorders and the risk factors affecting them. The group will produce information on the prevalence of sleep disorders (difficulties falling asleep, waking up at night, amount of sleep) in girls and boys during the first two years of their lives.

Subsequently, a long-term study will examine for which types of pediatric sleep disorders treatment should be available as early as possible and which types of sleep disorders are temporary.

Families with children may be reassured by the fact that sleep disorders are common and usually improve over time. The purpose of research data is also to reassure families by finding out what can be considered the normal development of sleep patterns in children, since they may have incorrect views which are not based on research information. These views often include extreme examples of children who sleep extremely well or very poorly.
Research data also supports the work of child health clinics in identifying children’s symptoms and counselling families. Based on the research results, fact sheets, treatment instructions and materials for families and professionals will be produced in good time, for instance on the Mental Hub’s website.

– Researchers find it very encouraging to hear how many families have been satisfied with their possibility of participating in a study they consider important. They have often found time to answer our long questionnaires. This unique material will provide us with valuable information on many factors affecting children’s welfare.

Juulia Paavonen’s research group includes PhD students, postdoc researchers and students preparing their thesis.

The group includes physicians specialising and specialised in pediatrics, psychiatry, child psychiatry, child neurology, and gynecology as well as Bachelors in Medicine carrying out their basic studies. It also includes researchers in psychology and social psychology. The group actively collaborates with experts in many fields.

The group was formed gradually after 2010 when the collection of the material and networking with researchers in the field was launched. The dedicated researchers would also welcome researchers in nutrition or health care or students completing their advanced studies.

Contact details

Juulia Paavonen
Helsinki University Hospital Children and Adolescents
juulia.paavonen(a)hus.fi

Links to studies

www.thl.fi/child-sleep

Sleep Difficulties in Infancy Are Associated with Symptoms of Inattention and Hyperactivity at the Age of 5 Years. A longitudinal study. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2019 Jun 3. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000684

Parental reports showed that snoring in infants at three and eight months associated with snoring parents and smoking mothers. Acta Paediatr. 2019 Feb 21. doi: 10.1111/apa.14758.

The role of parental circadian preference in the onset of sleep difficulties in early childhood
. Sleep Medicine, 2018 Nov 24. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2018.10.039