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Project: NAPS

Healthy sleep is essential to learning and well-being. Recent reports have shown an alarming trend of poor sleep habits in a substantial number of Australian school children. An estimated 1 in 3 preschool children (4-5 years) and 1 in 5 school starters (5-6 years) have disturbed sleep, which has been recently linked to academic and learning difficulties. Furthermore, inattentive behaviours, characterised by difficulties in concentration and focus, distractibility, impulsivity and disorganisation, have become highly prevalent in primary school children with a detrimental and long-lasting impact on academic attainment and developmental outcomes. Moreover, in children who are especially vulnerable to learning and memory impairments because of an underlying neurodevelopmental condition (e.g. Autism Spectrum Disorders) sleep disturbance may be a major contributor to inattentive behaviours and poor cognitive development.

To date, very little is known about how sleep and attention interact throughout the childhood years or the mechanisms that underpin this relationship. We propose that poor sleep habits may interact with attention mechanisms to produce an "at-risk" triad of sleep disturbance, inattention and poor academic attainment.

This study aims to:

  1. determine whether sleep disturbance impacts on levels of inattention, arousal and academic performance across primary school grades including typically and atypically developing children
  2. examine the inter-relationships between sleep disturbance, inattention and specific academic outcomes across the primary school years
  3. determine whether any observed inter-relationships between sleep disturbance, inattention and academic outcomes persists in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and whether there are additional factors, specifically anxiety, that contribute more strongly in this group

This study will utilise a range of cognitive and attention tasks, academic performance measures, behaviour rating scales, motor performance tasks and a sleep-wake assessment to determine the interactions of sleep, attention, cognition, motor performance and academic performance in both typically developing primary school children and those with High Functioning Autism/Asperger's syndrome.

Research Team:

Professor Kim Cornish, PhD

Associate Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, PhD

Professor Nicole Rinehart, PhD

Dr Russell Conduit, PhD


Associate Professor Helen Heussler, MBBS

Associate Professor Harriet Hiscock, MBBS

PhD Students:

Fay Fletcher, BSc

Mistral Foster-Owens, BPsych