Greenspace, Mental Health and Sleep

Principal Investigator: Diana Grigsby-Toussaint, PhD

Sponsor: National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Grant Number: R01MD016241

The WHO indicates 10% to 20% of children and adolescents have pediatric mental health disorders, contributing to a projected worldwide economic burden of $6 trillion by 2030. In RI, approximately 19% of children under the age of 17 have mental health challenges that can adversely affect their development, education, peer relationships, and physical health. Sleep is an increasingly recognized contributor to mental health and well-being. In children, inadequate sleep has been linked to diminished mental and physical health.

Exposure to greenspace, broadly defined as various forms of vegetation, has been shown to confer numerous health benefits. In this study, we propose to explore the association between exposure to greenspace and mental health outcomes in elementary school children.

Aim 1. Sleep and greenspace. Determine how green space utilization (GPS-derived measures of daily activity and environmental features) is related to sleep (duration, timing, regularity) in children.
Hypothesis 1.1 Children spending more time in greenspace as derived by GPS (i.e., utilization) will have earlier, longer and more regular sleep than children spending less time in greenspace.
Hypothesis 1.2. Greenspace utilization will influence sleep through increased light exposure, higher levels of physical activity measured using accelerometry, and lower levels of stress measured by IL-1 beta.

Aim 2. Mental health, greenspace and sleep. Determine whether greenspace utilization is associated with mental health and wellbeing via sleep behaviors.
Hypothesis 2.1. Children spending more time in greenspace will have fewer mental health symptoms as measured by validated PROMIS® measures of anxiety, cognitive functioning, psychological stress and wellbeing compared to children spending less time in greenspace.
Hypothesis 2.2. Greenspace utilization will influence mental health and well-being through sleep behavior (duration, timing, regularity) assessed using actigraphy.

Aim 3. Exploratory Aim. Greenspace, epigenetics, sleep and wellbeing. Explore the potential epigenetic contribution of greenspace on sleep and wellbeing in children. Exploratory Hypothesis 1.1. Patterns of differential DNA methylation between high and low greenspace users may differ in genes associated with stress response, inadequate sleep, light exposure, or physical activity. We will work in Rhode Island, which is currently engaged in expanding access to tree-canopy across the entire state – a unique designation in the US. Thus, the health and policy implications of our study is timely, and can have implications for other states interested in exploring the use green space to improve health among children and their families.

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