Examining Sleep as a Protective Mechanism for Executive Functioning in Children from Low-Income Homes

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Mary Fuhs


For young children, sleep is essential for healthy development across a wide variety of areas. Inadequate sleep can affect emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and health outcomes in early childhood, and can lead to poor outcomes later in life. Low family income and resources can put children at risk for poor sleep quality, impairing their subsequent cognitive abilities, particularly those related to executive functioning. While sleep in early childhood and its effects on executive functioning have been studied, the interaction between family income and sleep habits and their associations with cognitive functioning is less well known.The current study examined sleep quality as a protective factor against the negative effects of low socioeconomic status (SES) on children's executive functioning skills, specifically those of working memory and inhibition. It was hypothesized that SES would moderate the association between children's sleep quality and executive functioning such that children from low-SES homes would display worse executive functioning skills when experiencing poor sleep quality. This study examined these associations by drawing from a large data set collected for a preschool expansion project in the Midwest. Parents filled out surveys related to their children's sleep habits (quality and quantity) and executive functioning, as well as demographics questionnaires determining family income, children's age, and gender.Poor sleep quality and low family income were associated with poorer performances in both working memory and inhibition. The association between sleep quality and working memory was specific to children from low-SES homes. Exploratory analyses revealed that sleep length was not associated with either working memory or inhibition. Additionally, sleep quality and family income were not associated with a direct assessment of executive functioning. These results suggest that good sleep quality could buffer against poor executive functioning skills for children from low-SES homes. Future studies should attempt to measure these associations longitudinally so as to determine causal links between these variables.


Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Health, Psychology, Executive functioning, Sleep, Protective mechanism, Low-income, Early childhood

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Copyright © 2018, author