A new study on children's sleep habits is looking at how parents react when their children can't fall asleep or have trouble staying asleep.

'Sleep problems are very prevalent and they're a large problem for a lot of families.' - Adam Newton

Researchers at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Dalhousie University and Western University are working together on the project. It's part of a larger study called Better Nights, Better Days that is developing strategies online for parents.

"It's this part of our daily routine that often gets ignored, but it's so essential for our sleep habits, for our thoughts during the day, our functioning during the day," said research coordinator Adam Newton.

"If we can understand what's going on in terms of children's sleep and what parents are doing to help promote that sleep and address those difficulties falling asleep, then we can promote sleep quality and promote better functioning throughout the day for children and family."

Newton said it's one of the first studies to focus on younger children when it comes to parents' views on sleep habits, and under what conditions they seek professional help for their kids.

"Sleep problems are very prevalent and they're a large problem for a lot of families," said Newton.

"One in four preschoolers will have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep every day."

A health problem that falls in the middle

Sleep trouble falls into an awkward middle ground when it comes to health care, said Newton.

Seeking help for physical problems, like a sprained ankle, is easily understood, and society is getting better at helping people with mental health problems.

"Sleep problems fall in the middle," said Newton.

"I see them as kind of a merger between a physical health issue and a mental health issue,"

The researchers are looking for parents to take part in the study, starting immediately and running into late spring. Participants will do online surveys and journals.