What’s Causing Our Pre-School Children to Get So Little Sleep?

A recent study conducted by researchers at Bradley Hospital and Brown Medical School using actigraphy and sleep diaries finds that children under five years of age may suffer from sleep debt as much as older children and adults. The study conducted in the homes of 165 Rhode Island boys and girls between ages 1 and 5 for seven nights of sleep showed that on average children slept 8.7 hours a night and less than 9.5 in a 24-hour period when naps were included. Yet few nap: according to parent diaries, 82 percent no longer nap some or all days after 18 months of age. The amount of sleep found among pre-schoolers in the study contrasts with the 12 to 15 hours pediatric sleep experts recommend for these age groups. The 2005 NSF/Pampers® Baby-Dry™ survey of 1,003 children under 4 years old produced similar findings; on average, the amount of sleep children got each night in the NSF poll was 9.7 hours.

Another element of the Bradley Hospital/Brown Medical School study showed that family characteristics including socio-economic status (SES) significantly contributed to children’s sleep/wake patterns. In families that had lower educational achievement and lower occupational ratings, children were more likely to be out of bed earlier in the morning and spend less time in bed at night; however, these children also had less nighttime awakenings and more sleep efficiency.

"We were very surprised to find how little preschool aged children actually sleep at night," said Acebo. This concerns the authors and sleep experts because studies of school-aged children with poor sleep show lower physical and academic performance and higher rates of parent-reported behavior problems."

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