America's children are sleeping less than experts recommend. More than two-thirds experience frequent sleep problems, according to a recent National Sleep Foundation (NSF) survey. Children's poor sleep habits also take a toll on parents, some of whom lose a whopping 200 hours of sleep per year due to their child's nighttime issues.
The poll also found that, on average, children in every age group don't even meet the low end of the range recommended by experts for sleep during a 24-hour period.
The Importance of Sleep
Lack of sleep is troubling because sleep is vital for a child's health and overall development, learning, and safety, according to Richard L. Gelula, NSF's chief executive officer. Yet, sleep problems are often overlooked or go undetected by parents and doctors.
Understanding what constitutes normal and healthy sleep behavior is an important step toward ensuring a child's overall health, says Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, an NSF director who chaired the 2004 poll task force. She notes that parents should discuss any concerns about their child's sleep with their pediatrician. Dr. Mindell, who is associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, notes that in the poll, parents indicated that more than two-thirds (69 percent) of all children experience one or more sleep problems at least a few nights a week. The most common sleep problems include:
- difficulty falling asleep
- night wakenings
- stalling and resisting going to bed
- having trouble breathing
- loud or heavy breathing while sleeping
Dr. Mindell notes that 30 percent of all children wake up at least once a night needing attention, including 14 percent of school-aged children. In addition, about 14 percent of children frequently have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime.
How Much Sleep Do they Really Need?
Parents and other caregivers are not always aware of the sleep requirements of children and what the best sleep practices are. Therefore, they might not realize that their children aren't getting the right amount of sleep.
Infants, three to 11 months old should get approximately 14 to 15 hours of shut-eye every day. The poll showed that on average children in this age group are only getting 12.7 hours. For toddlers, (12 to 35 months old), a minimum of 12 to 14 hours of sleep is recommended, yet these tots clocked in with an average of only 11.7 hours. Preschoolers, ages three to five years, and six-year-oldkindergarteners should get a recommended 11 to 13 hours of sleep, but poll results indicate that most only receive about 10.4 hours. The study found that children rarely make up for lost sleep time on the weekends, but instead get even less sleep on Saturdays and Sundays than they do during the week.