Date of Paper/Work


Type of Paper/Work

Doctoral Project

Degree Name

Doctor of Occupational Therapy


Occupational Science/Occupational Therapy

First Advisor

Darla Coss


Doctor of Occupational Therapy


Sleep is foundational for the health and well-being of children. The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, Domain and Process, 4th Edition (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2020) has categorized rest and sleep as an occupation within the occupational therapy domain. Rest and sleep are defined as “Activities related to obtaining restorative rest and sleep to support healthy, active engagement in other occupations” (p. 32-33). Within this occupation domain, factors related to rest and sleep include rest, sleep preparation, and sleep participation. Rest is a time to relax and engage in quiet actions that do not induce stress or effort. Sleep preparation engages in routines that prepare one for sleep and prepare the environment for rest. And sleep participation is taking care of personal needs for sleep. Sleep is a foundational activity affecting a child’s environment, routines, performance skills, and individual preferences.

Current research suggests that children with disabilities experience sleep disturbances at a higher rate than children without disabilities. Research also examines the relationship between sleep and occupational performance in children. When children do not get enough sleep, they tend to experience difficulties with engagement in school and academics and delays in attention and focus (Claerkin & Creaven, 2013). Findings from an extensive literature review found evidence-based interventions to promote sleep in children. There are also sleep screening tools that can be utilized to gather information on a child’s sleep behavior. This paper examines evidence-based interventions and sleeps screening tools that can assist children and families in sleeping better. The paper also examines occupational therapy's role in treating behavioral sleep disturbances in children. Gaps in research to practice are identified, demonstrating a lack of confidence among occupational therapy practitioners in treating children who may have a sleep disturbance. This doctoral project aims to find the most effective non pharmacological interventions to promote sleep in children with developmental disabilities.

Three knowledge translation projects disseminated the research and findings gathered during an extensive literature review. The first knowledge translation project was a virtual continuing education class presented through a collaborative event held by the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association and St. Catherine University. The second project was again a collaborative presentation held by the Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association and St. Catherine University in the form of a virtual poster presentation. The third project is an article titled “Occupational Therapy’s Role in Sleep Promotion in Children with Developmental Disabilities: Assessment and Intervention,” submitted to OT Practice magazine.

Completing the three knowledge translation projects increased awareness of sleep interventions and screening tools that Occupational Therapists (OTs) can utilize to treat sleep disturbance in children. This doctoral project identified a lack of confidence among some OTs about providing sleep interventions and encouraged practicing therapists to become more educated in this area of practice. Some of the implications for practice include more research to develop specific sleep questionnaires/screening tools that evaluate the effect of a lack of sleep on performance. Other research opportunities include evaluating the effectiveness of occupational therapy for improved sleep in the pediatric population and, finally, investigating the physiological effects of improved sleep in children with disabilities.