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Keywords:

  • self-regulation;
  • school adjustment;
  • sleep;
  • early childhood

Background

Children's sleep problems and self-regulation problems have been independently associated with poorer adjustment to school, but there has been limited exploration of longitudinal early childhood profiles that include both indicators.

Aims

This study explores the normative developmental pathway for sleep problems and self-regulation across early childhood and investigates whether departure from the normative pathway is associated with later social–emotional adjustment to school.

Sample

This study involved 2,880 children participating in the Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) – Infant Cohort from Wave 1 (0–1 years) to Wave 4 (6–7 years).

Method

Mothers reported on children's sleep problems, emotional, and attentional self-regulation at three time points from birth to 5 years. Teachers reported on children's social–emotional adjustment to school at 6–7 years. Latent profile analysis was used to establish person-centred longitudinal profiles.

Results

Three profiles were found. The normative profile (69%) had consistently average or higher emotional and attentional regulation scores and sleep problems that steadily reduced from birth to 5 years. The remaining 31% of children were members of two non-normative self-regulation profiles, both characterized by escalating sleep problems across early childhood and below mean self-regulation. Non-normative group membership was associated with higher teacher-reported hyperactivity and emotional problems, and poorer classroom self-regulation and prosocial skills.

Conclusion

Early childhood profiles of self-regulation that include sleep problems offer a way to identify children at risk of poor school adjustment. Children with escalating early childhood sleep problems should be considered an important target group for school transition interventions.