New Poll Finds Children Have Poor Sleep Habits, Parents Paying Price

New Poll Finds Children Have Poor Sleep Habits, Parents Paying Price

WASHINGTON, DC, March 30, 2004 - America's children are sleeping less than experts recommend while more than two-thirds experience frequent sleep problems, according to a new poll released today by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Children's poor sleep habits also take a toll on parents/caregivers, some of whom lose an estimated 200 hours of sleep a year due to their child's nighttime awakenings.

NSF's seventh-annual Sleep in America poll, the first to examine children's sleep habits, finds:

  • Overall, children are not getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age group
  • Parents/caregivers are not always aware of the best sleep practices for their children, and many do not realize that their children are not getting the right amount of sleep
  • Parents are unsatisfied with their child's sleep habits. A majority (76 percent) would change something about those habits, if possible
  • Many doctors (52 percent) don't ask about a child's sleep habits, although a large number (69 percent) of parents/caregivers report sleep-related problems in their children

The 2004 Sleep in America poll looks at the sleep habits of children (infants to 10 year-olds) and their parents or other primary caregivers, focusing on children's sleep habits and problems, bedtime routines, sleep environment and the sleep habits of the parents/caregivers.

"Sleep is a vital asset for a child's health and overall development, learning and safety," says Richard Gelula, NSF's chief executive officer. "Our new poll finds that many children are not sleeping enough and many experience sleep problems. What is troublesome is that the problems start in infancy." Gelula notes, "The poll also shows that parents are paying a price for their child's poor sleep habits, getting less sleep than they feel they need for their own optimum performance."

Kids Overall Need More Sleep

The 2004 Sleep in America poll finds 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 following information summarizes the findings for each age group:

  • Infants (3-11 months); Recommendation: 14-15 hours; Poll Findings: 12.7 hours
  • Toddlers (12-35 months); Recommendation: 12-14 hours; Poll Findings: 11.7 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years old & 6 year-olds in kindergarten); Recommendation: 11-13 hours; Poll Findings: 10.4 hours
  • School-aged (1st - 5th grade); Recommendation: 10-11 hours; Poll Findings: 9.5 hours

In addition, the poll finds many children do not "catch up" on their sleep during the weekend. Instead, findings show about one-quarter of pre-school and school-aged children actually sleep less on weekends than on weekdays.

The poll also shows an apparent gap between the amount of sleep a parent/caregiver thinks a child needs and how much the child actually sleeps. A majority of parents/caregivers say their child gets the "right amount" of sleep. However, comparing the number of hours they think their child should sleep with the number of hours they say the child actually sleeps, the poll finds, overall, that kids do not get the right amount of sleep.

Children Have Poor Sleep Habits

"Sleep problems are often overlooked and go undetected," says Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a NSF director who chairs the 2004 poll task force. "Understanding what is normal and healthy sleep behavior is an important step towards ensuring a child's overall health. Parents/caregivers must be given information to help them recognize symptoms of sleep problems and they need to discuss their concerns with their child's doctor."

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of all children experience one or more sleep problems at least a few nights a week, according to their parents/caregivers. The most common sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep, nightwalkings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, having trouble breathing, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping.

According to parents/caregivers, 30 percent of all children are waking at least once a night needing attention including 14 percent of school-aged kids. The poll also finds snoring is prevalent in preschoolers (19 percent) and school-aged children (18 percent); about 14 percent of kids frequently have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime and 9 percent have trouble breathing or exhibit loud or heavy breathing while sleeping at least a few nights a week, symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea.

Children's daytime behaviors are often related to their sleep habits. According to parents/caregivers, about one-quarter of infants, toddlers and preschoolers appear sleepy or overtired during the day, while nearly three out of 10 school-aged kids have difficulty waking in the morning.

Caffeine consumption and a television in the bedroom are major sleep disrupters for older children. The Sleep in America poll finds that 26 percent of children ages 3 and older drink at least one caffeinated beverage per day. Children who drink a caffeinated beverage sleep less than those who do not (9.1 vs. 9.7 hours per night), a loss of about 3.5 hours a week.

School-aged children are the most likely to have a television in their bedroom (43 percent), although parents/caregivers report nearly one-third of preschoolers and even 20 percent of infants and toddlers have a television in the bedroom. The poll finds children with a television in their bedroom go to sleep almost 20 minutes later and sleep less than those without a television in their bedroom (9.2 vs. 9.6 hours per night), a loss of more than two hours of sleep a week.

Doctors are Not Asking about Children's Sleep

Despite the many indications of parent-reported sleep problems, more than one-half (52 percent) of those polled said their child's doctor did not ask about their child's sleep. And the older the child, the less likely it is such a discussion takes place, although older children are more likely to experience frequent sleep problems. While a doctor is more likely to ask about snoring as children get older, only about one quarter of parents/caregivers report such a discussion (24 percent).

Parents/Caregivers and Children Affect Each Others' Sleep

About three out of four parents/caregivers say they would change something about their child's sleep if they could. A child's bedtime is a popular choice for change across most age groups, although many parents would like to change their child's bedtime behavior and the time their child wakes up.

Positive parenting practices such as reading improve children's sleep. The poll shows that children who read or are read to as part of their bedtime routine are likely to sleep more and are less likely to watch television, videos or DVDs.

"It's important for parents and other caregivers to understand the appropriate amount of sleep their child needs, the best environment for them to get that sleep, and how to implement healthy sleep habits for themselves as well as their child," says Ralph Pascualy, M.D., medical director of Swedish Medical Center's Sleep Medicine Institute in Seattle.

Parents/caregivers average about 6.8 hours of sleep a night, slightly less than the seven hours averaged by all adults according to NSF's 2002 Sleep in America poll. Most parents/caregivers say they get less sleep than they need, with the majority saying they need between eight and nine hours each night. The sleep habits of children have a direct impact on those caring for them. Parents/caregivers whose children get the least amount of sleep are twice as likely to say they sleep less than six hours a night.

About one-half of all parents/caregivers have their sleep disrupted an average of twice a week because their child awakens them during the night. Parents of infants are awakened the most, and lose the most sleep - they are awakened an average of four nights a week, losing close to an hour of sleep each time - that's more than 200 hours of lost sleep in their child's first year.

Insomnia is also a problem for parents/caregivers. Nearly three in 10 experience insomnia at least a few nights a week; about one-half of these insomnia sufferers say their problem increased after they became a parent/caretaker. (Symptoms of insomnia include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking too early or being unable to get back to sleep). In addition to not getting enough sleep, the poll finds children's sleep habits cause moderate to significant stress on marriages/relationships, particularly for parents/caretakers of infants (10 percent) and toddlers (7 percent).

What Parents/Caretakers Can Do

In light of the findings from the 2004 Sleep in America poll, the National Sleep Foundation and the Swedish Sleep Medicine Institute make the following recommendations for parents and caregivers:

  • Make sufficient sleep a family priority. Understanding the importance of getting enough sleep and how sleep affects the overall health of parents and children is the first step towards making sleep a family priority. Parents/caretakers need to determine the amount of sleep each family member needs and take steps to ensure their individual needs are met. Every family member must make a good night's sleep a regular part of his/her daily schedule.
  • Embrace good sleep habits. Regular bedtime routines, creating a quiet and comfortable bedroom, and adhering to appropriate bedtime and wake times can go a long way to better sleep. Televisions and computers need to be out of the bedroom and caffeine should not be part of a child's diet.
  • Learn to recognize sleep problems. The most common sleep problems in children include difficulty falling asleep, nighttime awakenings, snoring, stalling and resisting going to bed, having trouble breathing, and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. These sleep problems can be evident in daytime behavior such as being overtired, sleepy or cranky.
  • Talk to your child's doctor about sleep. Parents/caregivers should discuss their child's sleep habits and problems with their child's doctor, as most sleep problems are easily treated. Health-care professionals must regularly ask about a child's sleep.

A summary of findings for the 2004 Sleep in America poll can be found on NSF's Web site, along with more information about sleep at


WB&A Market Research conducted the 2004 Sleep in America poll for NSF using telephone interviews with a targeted random sample of 1,473 adults who were a primary caregiver or share equally in the care of a child 10 years of age or younger living in the household. The interviews were conducted between Sept. 15 and Oct. 17, 2003. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.6 percent. The poll divides children into four age groups: infants (0-11 months), toddlers (12-35 months), preschoolers (3-5 years and 6 year-olds in kindergarten) and school-aged children (1st - 5th grade).


The National Sleep Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and safety by achieving an understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and by supporting education, sleep-related research and advocacy. For more information, visit

Swedish Medical Center's Sleep Medicine Institute works with NSF as a Community Sleep Awareness Partner to help educate Pacific Northwest residents about the importance of sleep. Swedish Medical Center is the largest, most comprehensive, nonprofit health provider in the Pacific Northwest. It is comprised of three hospital campuses (First Hill, Providence and Ballard), Swedish Home Care Services and Swedish Physicians - a network of 11 primary-care clinics. In addition to general medical and surgical care, Swedish is known as a regional referral center, providing specialized treatment in areas such as cardiac care, oncology, orthopedics, high-risk obstetrics, neurological care, sleep medicine, pediatrics, organ transplantation and clinical research. For more information, visit

Media Coverage

  • To read the transcript of a related story that KING 5 Television (ch. 5; NBC) aired March 30, click here.
  • To read a related article titled "How to rise and shine when you're nocturnal by nature" that ran in The Seattle Times on March 31, click here.


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