Campus Spotlight

Christine Marco

Associate Professor of Psychology & Director of Graduate Studies in Psychology
Horace Mann Hall 311

Year began at RIC: 2002

Students working on project:

Alicia Corbo, MA in Psychology, candidate

Patrick Doyle, BA in Psychology 2007

Kevin Ferschke, BA in Psychology 2009; MA in Psychology 2011

Erin Mulligan, BA in Psychology 2005; MA in Psychology 2007

Christina Sales, BA in Psychology 2009; MA in Psychology 2011

Justin Souliere, BA in Psychology 2009

Emily Xavier, BA in Psychology 2009

Project: Young Adolescent Sleep-Smart Pacesetter Program

Students Kevin Ferschke (MA '11) and Christina Sales (MA '11) presenting the findings of their work with Dr. Marco.

Dr. Marco specializes in health psychology and is trained in cardiovascular behavioral medicine, which concentrates on the role of stress and the stress process on heart disease. Her NIH-funded study hopes to better understand the consequences of inadequate and irregular sleep/wake patterns for adolescents, such as academic performance, emotional well-being, and physical health. This grant also provided 10 undergraduate and graduate students at RIC with the opportunity to be employed as research assistants and to gain first-hand experience in health psychology research.

The Young Adolescent Sleep-Smart Pacesetter Program examines the effectiveness of a school-based intervention program for improving the quantity and quality of young adolescents' sleep patterns. Dr. Marco worked with Dr. Amy Wolfson from Holy Cross on this study, which began with recruiting participants from middle schools in Worcester, MA. The students were in 7th grade when the study began, and it continued into their 8th grade year. The students came from six classrooms in two schools.

To get a baseline, the students wore an Actigraph to estimate their sleep for one week. This watch-sized device, worn on the wrist, can be described as an extremely sensitive motion sensor. The adolescents also kept a sleep diary, reporting on factors that are known to influence sleep such as stress, caffeine use, and the use of electronic devices immediately before bedtime (e.g., cell phone, TV, computer). Then, lessons on good sleep habits were taught to half of the group; the lessons included information on consistency, bedtime routine, caffeine use, avoiding naps, and shutting off electronic devices an hour before bed. The students' sleep patterns were tested again for one week with the Actigraph and a sleep diary. The study also compiled reports from parents and teachers on the children, including school attendance and grades.

The results found that these 7th graders were getting much less than their required 9.2 hours and that those from lower socioeconomic (SES) families showed the worst sleep patterns. These findings were published in January 2012 in Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

Other results from this study include the finding that worsening sleep habits from 7th to 8th grade were associated with increases in body mass index over that same time frame. In addition, the effect of stress on sleep was more pronounced in young adolescents from lower SES families, and those from lower SES families who reported daily stressors were less likely to report feeling refreshed by sleep. These findings were presented at the 2011 Meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Cambridge, MA and were co-authored by RIC graduate students, Christina Sales and Kevin Ferschke.

The effectiveness of the intervention is currently being analyzed, but the initial findings are that the intervention was successful at modifying various aspects of the young adolescents' behavior.

Dr. Marco feels that the study can bring awareness to the importance of sleep for young adolescents as they navigate the transition from middle to high school. As Dr. Marco says, "The more we understand about sleep in young adolescence, the more we can understand how to change sleep patterns and conditions that affect their health, behavior, and school performance."

This photo shows the data output from the actigraph. Each row represents a 24-hour period, and the sections marked by the blue lines are when sleep is estimated to have occurred each day.

Page last updated: May 8, 2014