Program uses teddy bears to teach kids benefits of sleep

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NEW YORK (CBS) Research shows almost half of all children are not getting enough sleep, which can lead to problems concentrating and retaining information learned at school. An innovative program is helping kids get the rest they need.

It may be morning in this pre-school classroom in Harlem, but these 3-year-olds are preparing for bedtime with their teddy bears. This is part of a sleep program funded by the National Institutes of Health. The curriculum is being taught to 500 children at 22 Headstart pre-schools in New York.

"The overall goal is to promote healthy sleep in early childhood," said Dr. Karen Bonuck with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore, the leader of the program.

She says 25 to 50 percent of children are not getting the at least 10 hours of sleep -- including naps -- they need each day. Bonuck says by teaching the teddy bears the importance of preparing for and getting a good night sleep, kids will model that behavior at home. "Children who are really overtired, they're not ready to learn, they're not able to get along well with others, they're just not able to absorb information," she said.

As part of the program, parents are given an orientation, learning techniques to help kids sleep better, like reading a book before bed to relax, instead of watching TV or playing a computer game.

"I didn't really know how important sleeping is until I took the class," said Patricia O'Shaughnessy, whose 3-year-old son is taking part in the program. She says he is now sticking to his 8 p.m. bedtime and sleeping longer and better alongside his teddy bear.