Sleep-Deprived Kids? Not So Much, Says 6776-Child Study


Kids sleep. They really, really do. Image by Garth Sundem

There are things we know to be true, including the impending Mayan end of the world and the fact that kids are increasingly getting too little sleep. However, at least the second appears to hold less truthiness than we doomsday parents expect. A study published online Wednesday in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine shows that kids are sleeping just fine. The authors write that, “For different survey years, the estimated medians were within a few minutes of each other,” and that, “These estimates are consistent with the amount of sleep recommended for children.”

To discover this much truthier take on sleep, researchers at the University of Washington and UCLA mined the results of the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationally representative survey that used time diaries to chart sleep for kids from birth to age 18, sampled in 1997, 2002 and 2007. Infants sleep 13 of 24 hours, with 96 percent of infants catching a snooze during the day. Only 18.7 percent of 10 year olds sleep during the day, but then napping is back up to 34.1 percent at age 17 — the influence of high school social studies classes wasn’t accounted for in the data model. The line connecting an infant’s 13 hours per day to a 14-18 year old’s 9 hours of sleep per day is linear and smooth.

Equally stunning in its utter, unexpected blandness is the lack of any racial or ethnic difference in kids’ sleep patterns. Sure, black kids get a little less sleep as young kids and then a little more sleep as adolescents than do their white, age-matched counterparts (max below is 15 minutes at age 7, and max above is 10 minutes at age 16), and Hispanic kids average 19 minutes more sleep after age 9 than the median, but the authors call these differences, “quantitatively small.” (Another shocker: “Teenagers sleep longer on weekends,” the authors write.)

What it comes down to is this: the parental fear that our kids are falling further and further behind the sleep curve is all in our heads. How in our heads is it? The answer is in the comparison of this study with a similar study that asked parents to report kids’ sleep times (rather than using time diaries). How much sleep do parents attribute to their children? Especially as infants and teenagers, parents think their kids are getting much less sleep than they actually are.

That said, any time you talk statistics, you’re talking about norms but not necessarily about any individual child’s sleep. Your child may sleep more or sleep less, and likewise your child may need to sleep more or less. And this isn’t meant to diss the crushing sleep deprivation most parents (including myself…) report during a child’s infant years. This is total sleep, folks. And in terms of total sleep, it looks like our kids are holding steady and doing just fine.

And now we can all go back to worrying about the end of the world.

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