SU professor to research sleeping habits


^ Posted Feb. 7

By Kim Walter

By the time an individual reaches the adult phase of his life, he probably has a good idea of if he is a morning person or not.

There's plenty of research to suggest how the time of day in which a person feels most alert can affect other aspects of life -- sleep, education, work and relationships.

But what about kids?

Dr. Laura Zimmermann, professor of psychology at Shenandoah University, has decided to conduct a survey to shed more light on daily routines, and what they mean, in preschool-aged children.

"We all have different times of the day that we prefer," she said. "And we know how it affects adults' lives, but not those of younger children."

Zimmermann prefers to work with the younger age group, so the research made perfect sense to her as something that needed to be done.

People who are most productive in the morning are often referred to as larks; those who prefer the night time are owls; everyone else falls somewhere in between, and are called hummingbirds.

"I've looked at the differences in college-aged students and adolescents, but this younger age is very interesting to me," she said.

Besides just doing research that's never been done before, Zimmermann also said she hopes to get an idea of if people are born with these time-of-day preferences, or if they are learned. She's also interested in how the preferences impact sleep and daily life.

Based on adolescent research, Zimmermann said that, for instance, those with "owl" tendencies have a tougher time getting up in the morning, which can result in strained relationships with parents and suffering grades.

"It seems that we start out more on the lark end, but as we move into adolescence, we're more owlish, which is hard because our days start earlier with school," she said. "But in college, students start adjusting their schedules to match their time of day preference, and they shift their sleep schedule on the weekends."

Zimmermann added that it's easier for college-aged people to adjust to an earlier schedule as they start using caffeine and implementing better planning strategies to make the mornings easier.

"So I already can guess that we won't be seeing the same results with this preschool research," she said. "We just know so little about their preferences with sleep and routines, so for now I'm just trying to find out what's out there."

Zimmermann is asking parents to take a quick, 12-minute survey online that will ask questions about their child. Parents also will need to answer questions about their own routines and time-of-day preferences.

The survey is anonymous, and calls for children aged 36 to 60 months old. Zimmermann provided her email before and after the survey, as she welcomes any questions that parents might have.

If survey takers want to learn results of the research, Zimmermann said they can send her a message and she will add names to a list. However, she said the results probably wouldn't be ready for any kind of release for six months to a year.

If you would like to participate in the survey, go to

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or

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