Attention, Behaviour and Sleep (ABS) Laboratory


Research Projects |  Sleep Squad video


The Attention, Behaviour and Sleep (ABS) Lab is a multidisciplinary unit combining behavioural, psychological, genetic, and physiological methods to study the interplay between sleep and the development of children.

Sleep is not an isolated phenomenon. The neurobiology underlying sleep regulation overlaps with other systems that regulate affect, attention, and behaviour. Disruption of these systems early in life can have a major impact on the developmental processes and can lead to behavioural problems. The ABS lab seeks to further our knowledge about this impact.

The ABS lab uses empirical basic and clinical research to:

  • document and explain sleep problems
  • examine the effects of intervention tools
  • document how sleep affects daytime functioning, including attention span

A better understanding of how sleep, attention, and behaviour interact will lead to the development of innovative approaches for preventing and treating psychiatric problems in children.

Research Projects

Basic Research

The Attention Behaviour and Sleep (ABS) Laboratory studies the many aspects of sleep, attention, behaviour, emotion, and learning/memory from many different perspectives: cognitive, clinical, developmental, and neuroscientific. The lab observes behaviours, infers clinical relevance, and measures the developmental changes and underlying physiological mechanisms associated with sleep. Its primary concern is to collect ecologically valid data using robust experimental designs.

Sleep and Attention Study

The interplay between sleep regulation, neurobehavioural systems, and genetic mechanisms in children with Attention -Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Funded by: Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Leader: Dr. Reut Gruber

The Sleep and Attention study examines the effects of sleep on daytime attention and behaviour. Experimental laboratory-based studies and clinical observations have shown that insufficient and poor-quality sleep result in ADHD-like symptoms, including behavioural deregulation and poor neurocognitive functioning.

The association between sleep and neurobehavioral functioning in children with ADHD and breathing problems is well-documented, but there is little information regarding the association between sleep, daytime arousal, and neurobehavioral functioning in children with ADHD. The lab’s goal with this project is to determine what aspects of neurobehavioural function are affected by sleep in order to develop appropriate and effective interventions to improve waking function by means of sleep modification.

Genetic mechanisms associated with sleep and arousal

Early studies show preliminary support for the involvement of catecholaminergic mechanisms in the regulation of sleep/arousal, cognition, and psychopathology. The lab has demonstrated a genetic link between ADHD and sleep continuity . We are interested in extending this line of investigation and expect to contribute to the knowledge regarding sleep in ADHD and support the development of individualized, genotype-specific sleep regimens.

Sleep to Remember Study

Sleep to remember: sleep-dependent learning and memory in children and adolescents

Funded by: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Leader: Dr. Reut Gruber

The Sleep to Remember study aims to investigate the interaction between sleep and learning, particularly how sleep restriction affects memory in children, adolescents, and adults. This study’s results will offer important insights into the neurobehavioral underpinnings of learning-memory throughout development.

Clinical Research

The ABS lab is interested in the empirical treatment of sleep disorders in children and their families. The lab has a specific interest in working with children suffering from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The ABS lab employs objective measures to document and diagnose sleep problems, as well as intervention tools to research empirically effective treatments for pediatric sleep problems including light therapy, melatonin therapy, and chronotherapy. To measure the effectiveness of such treatment, the lab employs the same tools used for diagnosis (e.g., actigraphy) and objective assessment (e.g. of neuropsychological functioning) to document changes in daytime activities in the domains of impairment (e.g. of attentional functioning) that might be affected by a sleep disorder.

The ABS lab also studies how goal attainment plans improve sleep quality in children with ADHD and help them get to sleep more easily.

Healthy Eating in Childhood

Funded by: Fonds de Recherche en Sante de Quebec (FRSQ)
Leaders: Drs. Reut Gruber, Bärbel Knäuper, Lauette Dubé, and Lesley Fellows.

As childhood obesity is increasing in our society, it is important to find a way to promote healthy eating in children. To do this, we must first improve our understanding of how children decide what food they eat and how best to change their eating habits. The Healthy Eating in Childhood study is investigating how children aged 5-7 and their mothers make decisions about eating. It is part of an ongoing collaboration, known as Brain to Society link, which aims to analyze and prevent obesity and other non-communicable chronic diseases. Participant testing and data collection takes place at the ABS lab.

Community-based participatory research

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is an approach to scientific research that differs from traditional research by involving the community in the research process. Members of the community in which the research is being conducted take part in decision-making and help design and guide the implementation of the research findings.

In the CIHR-funded knowledge translation project entitled Sleep for Success, the ABS lab, in collaboration with he Riverside School Board, is using CBPR to apply the knowledge gained from sleep research to make a positive impact on the health and learning capacity of young people. The lab is developing the “Sleep for Success” program to increase total sleep and encourage healthy sleep habits in children, youth, and adults. This project will serve as a model that can be applied throughout Canada.

Sleep for Success Study

Sustained improvement of youth’s health and learning capacity by rapid translation and dissemination of sleep research through school-board partnership

Funded by: Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Leader: Dr. Reut Gruber

Sleep for Success (SFS) is a joint initiative led by Gail Sommerville between Reut Gruber and the Riverside School Board. It aims to promote balanced lifestyles by integrating sleep education into the existing health curriculum. By stressing the interplay between sleep, diet, and physical activity, the program promotes behaviours that will lead to a lifelong commitment to healthy living.

The promotion of balanced lifestyles requires action across students’ daily environments including the school, the home, and the community. Sleep for Success therefore seeks to target not only students but their immediate environments and the most influential persons therein including parents, teachers, and school administrators. Specific literature, self-assessment materials, and online activities target these populations in a fun and interactive way. Evidence supporting this approach has been produced through focus groups held in the Riverside School Board and in other research contexts.

As 60-70% of Canadian students are shown to be extremely fatigued when they arrive at school, the implementation of such a program can have incredible positive effects for a school board and surrounding community.

The Sleep Squad

In response to the Sleep for Success program, James Stadnyk, teacher at Harold Napper School in Montreal, asked his grade 4 class to produce a video called The Sleep Squad.

The Sleep Squad video was produced by James Stadnyk’s grade 4 class at Harold Napper School, in Brossard Quebec, as a response to the Sleep for Success program.

The Sleep for Success program is a dynamic and engaging school-based intervention aimed at teaching children, families, and communities about the importance of sleep, increasing children’s total sleep duration, and helping them develop healthy sleep habits.

The program is a joint initiative between a team of researchers at the Attention, Behaviour, and Sleep Lab, led by Reut Gruber, and a team of professionals, led by Gail Sommerville, from the Riverside School Board.

The Sleep for Success program was also implemented throughout all the English sector classes at Harold Napper in 2011.

Learning material

Below, please find links to the full length and shortened version of the film. Transcripts of both versions are also available. A toolkit is provided to facilitate appropriate use of the film.

Full length movie
Full lenght movie transcript

Short length movie
Short length movie transcript

The movie facilitator toolkit


Douglas Institute
ABS Laboratory
Bond Pavilion, Room Z-1139
6875 LaSalle Boulevard
Montreal, Quebec H4H 1R3

Sleep and Attention Team
Tel.: (514) 761-6131, ext. 2050

Sleep to Remember Team
Tel.: (514) 761-6131, ext. 2082 

Sleep for Success Team
Tel.: (514) 761-6131, ext. 2050

Healthy Eating in Childhood Team
Tel.: (514) 761-6131, ext. 2082