American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition
American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition
Source/Disclosures
Source:

Williamson AA, et al. A social media analysis about the use and efficacy of alternative child sleep aids. Presented at: AAP National Conference & Exhibition; Oct. 2-5, 2020; virtual.

Disclosures: Williamson reports no relevant financial disclosures. Mindell reports being a consultant for Janssen and Johnson & Johnson. Please see the abstract for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
October 04, 2020
3 min read
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Q&A: Clinicians can use social media to help parents find expert health advice

Source/Disclosures
Source:

Williamson AA, et al. A social media analysis about the use and efficacy of alternative child sleep aids. Presented at: AAP National Conference & Exhibition; Oct. 2-5, 2020; virtual.

Disclosures: Williamson reports no relevant financial disclosures. Mindell reports being a consultant for Janssen and Johnson & Johnson. Please see the abstract for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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Many parents use social media to seek advice about parenting and health care. New study findings suggest that expert advice on alternative sleep aids for their children may be hard to come by on these platforms.

Ariel A. Williamson
Jodi A. Mindell

In the study, Ariel A. Williamson, PhD, DBSM, Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, and colleagues used the Twitter dashboard TweetDeck to search for tweets related to alternative sleep aids or child sleep that were posted over the course of more than a year, from Jan. 1, 2019, to Jan. 31, 2020.

According to the researchers, up to 40% of children are affected by sleep problems, and up to 75% of parents seek parenting and health care advice on social media.

The 1,159 tweets included in the study “were coded by trained research assistants for user type, positive or negative tone, and positive/negative health outcomes,” the researchers explained. Most of the tweets — 62.3% — were related to nonpharmacological sleep aids, including lavender (30.8%), weighted blankets (22.8%) and essential oils (8.7%).

Only 1.4% of the tweets were written by health care professionals or academic institutions, and just 0.7% came from news outlets, the researchers found.

A little more than half (51.4%) of the tweets were positive. Positive tweets were more common for nonpharmacological sleep aids (66.6%) than melatonin (42.8). Among the 13% of tweets that mentioned ADHD and autism spectrum disorder, 43.3% were related to the use of weighted blankets.

We asked Williamson and Mindell a little more about the study and how clinicians can use social media to help parents find clinically sound advice about the health of their children.

Question: Why did you focus on alternative sleep aids?

A: We are both psychologists in the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and many families we see ask about alternative sleep aids, including weighted blankets and melatonin, because they hear about them often. We wanted to get a better understanding of where our patients are getting information about these items, and what information is being presented on social media.

Q: What does the scientific evidence say about behavioral sleep treatments and alternative sleep aids? Are any alternative sleep aids recommended by AAP?

A: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has stated that the first-line treatment for behaviorally related sleep problems in children is behavioral approaches. There is a very strong evidence base for behavioral approaches to reduce sleep problems, such as difficulty falling and staying asleep across childhood, from infancy through adolescence. For sleep aids, there is an evidence base for the use of melatonin in children with autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Melatonin has been found to be safe and effective in reducing sleep difficulties in children with autism, but any use of melatonin should be supervised by a health care provider. There is very limited, if any, evidence for other sleep aids in children, such as weighted blankets and essential oils.

Q: You found that 1.4% of the tweets were written by health care professionals or academic institutions. Generally, what did these tweets contain? Advice? Recommendations?

A: We were surprised about how few tweets were written by health care professionals or academic institutions. These tweets were either related to recruitment for research studies or on findings of studies related to the use of alternative sleep aids in children.

Q: We have written a lot of stories about how clinicians use social media, especially Twitter, to communicate. But many clinicians may not use it. Is there a place where they can learn how?

A: As social media use continues to grow among the general population, some academic institutions do offer information about how to best use social media to communicate research findings. For example, there is a large communications team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that works with clinicians to put out information on social media about research findings and evidence-based practices. The AAP may have resources to help with this as well.

Q: When you suggest that providers use social media “to provide balanced and empirically based information” on the risks and benefits of alternative sleep aids, how exactly should they use it?

A: Clinicians should consider frequently posting about the scientific evidence behind alternative sleep aids, as well as about general sleep information. Dr. Mindell and I are both part of the Pediatric Sleep Council, a group of pediatric sleep experts from around the world who provide free, evidence-based advice about early childhood sleep via our website, Facebook page, and Twitter. We also hold Baby Sleep Day each year on March 1 to promote information about scientifically validated methods to help with sleep in young children. Presenting advice and ensuring this advice is clear, easily understood and accessible to social media users, including parents and other caregivers, is key.

Q: Should they just use Twitter, or should they use other social media platforms as well?

A: Recent data from the Pew Research Center suggest that many parents use multiple social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Clinicians and academics looking to provide education and information about evidence-based approaches to help with child sleep and other concerns should consider posting on these platforms.

Q: Is this applicable to other things beyond alternative sleep aids? Should clinicians provide advice on other areas of pediatric care as well, such as vaccines?

A: In general, more efforts are needed to make sure that parents and other caregivers are getting information about the newest research findings in pediatrics, whether it is about sleep or vaccines or mental health concerns or any pertinent area. Providing such advice can help ensure that families have the information they need to promote healthy child development.