Project Overview

Sleep and Stress Across Development

Faculty Sponsor

Lauren Philbrook (


Psychological and Brain Sciences


Students in my lab will work on two related projects over the summer. The first project (which will be the main focus) concerns young children. The goals of this project are 1) To examine proximal and distal predictors of young children’s (3-5 year olds) sleep quality and duration, and 2) To examine child sleep quality and duration as predictors of their executive functioning, stress, and socioemotional skills. Predictors of children’s sleep will include neighborhood characteristics (e.g., neighborhood violence and crime, walkability, green space, poverty, social cohesion), parent and child behaviors during the child’s bedtime routine, family socioeconomic status (SES), and family emotional climate. Parent-child interaction during bedtime will be obtained via videorecording. Neighborhood characteristics and family SES and emotional climate will be measured from parent report. To determine child sleep quality and duration, specialized wristwatches (actiwatches) that measure motion to identify sleep or wake state will be used. Finally, children will complete standardized and well-validated executive functioning tasks on a tablet, parents will report on children’s socioemotional skills, and parents will be taught how to collect saliva samples for measuring cortisol levels, a hormone tied to stress, from their children.
The goal outcomes of the project are to ascertain factors within the child’s environment that are predictive of better sleep, and in turn, better executive functioning and social competence and less stress in children. These outcomes may be particularly relevant to 3-5 year olds, who are at an age when preparedness for starting school is of great importance.
Summer students will be involved in every aspect of the project. They will come with me to visit families in their homes and set up video equipment for recording the bedtime routine; score parent-child behaviors during the bedtime routine from videorecordings; learn to set up, score, and analyze the sleep data collected from the actiwatches; enter and analyze questionnaire and executive functioning data; and collect and analyze cortisol data from the saliva samples. They will also assist with participant recruitment through creation and distribution of flyers.
The second project we will work on concerns college students. The study may not begin until students arrive back on campus in the fall, but I plan to begin preparing for it over the summer. The two goals of this study are to 1) To examine how early experiences of loneliness and belonging shape trajectories of mental health and behavior over time among college students and 2) To assess the role of actigraphy-assessed sleep, parasympathetic, and cortisol regulation in mitigating risk associated with social stress. Further, establishing social connections is a key developmental task in adolescence that may be heightened for individuals who are underrepresented or marginalized. Thus, this study will specifically assess how sleep and physiology act as protective and susceptibility factors among these students. Participants will self-report loneliness, belonging, and mental health via questionnaires. Actigraphs will assess multiple aspects of their sleep, and participants will participate in lab visits where their parasympathetic regulation, risk-taking, and decision-making are assessed and they are provided with materials to measure cortisol levels in their saliva. 
With this work I aim to identify those students at greatest risk for mental health and behavioral difficulties and points of intervention to support them. Summer students will be involved in literature reviews, questionnaire and assessment selection, developing a laboratory script, writing the IRB application, and potentially recruitment and data collection, if we are able to recruit students on campus for the summer.

Student Qualifications

Students should have experience working with children. They must have strong interpersonal skills and show a high degree of sensitivity, patience, and understanding in working with diverse families and peers. Students must be reliable and willing to occasionally have an irregular schedule including some visits in the evenings or weekends. They should be comfortable working independently or in a team with one other person, and be open to researching and learning techniques for measuring parent-child interaction, sleep, physiology, and mental health. Preference will be given to students who have taken Sleep Psychology and who are able to commit to working in the lab during the 2024-25 academic year.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 10/03/2023 and close on 02/28/2024

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (