You would think that parents would know whether their
child was having trouble sleeping. After all, theyre the ones called on for umpteen
glasses of water and kisses goodnight. But a new survey of the sleep habits of children in
kindergarten through fourth grade shows that common wisdom isnt necessarily
Judith Owens, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of
pediatrics at Brown University School of Medicine, found that if you ask a kid how he has
been sleeping he will often give you a far different answer than his mom or dad. More than
a quarter of the children she surveyed from three elementary schools in Rhode Island
reported having trouble falling asleep, whereas only about 5 percent of their parents were
aware of the problem. Similarly 14.6 percent of the kids, but only 4.6 percent of parents,
said the children woke up in the middle of the night.
Too Many Tired Kids
Owens and her colleagues, also asked teachers about the kids in their
classrooms and found that one in 10 elementary-aged children were sleepy during the
Im a little surprised at that,
says John Shepard, medical director of the Mayo Sleep Disorders Center in Rochester, Minn.
I would have thought that more children in this kindergarten through fourth grade
group would be awake and alert.
We know that kids this age are at their peak
of alertness relative to any other age, Owens says. But sleep deprivation can affect
a childs mood and the ability to pay attention and process information. So if
you see that behavior in your elementary school-aged child, she says, you
should be concerned.
Signs of Sleepiness
One red flag for parents that a child may be sleep-deprived is if the child
sleeps in on weekends until 11 a.m. or noon, Owens says. If a child is very slow to get
going on weekday mornings atypical behavior for this age group it may be a
sign of sleep deprivation. Researchers have found kids this age need about 10 hours of
sleep a night on average. Shepard adds that children who snore loudly, especially if they
are sleepy, should be evaluated by a sleep specialist.
But as the results of Owens study make
clear, the best way to find out if your child has a sleep problem is to ask.
Even preschoolers can give you a fair idea
of whats on their mind and what bothers them, says George Cohen.
When kids get older, they have what they see as problems, but nobody asks them so
they dont complain.
Sleep as Important as
Its up to parents, says Owens, to instill good sleep habits.
Just as you wouldnt let your child eat candy three meals a day, you need to
help your child get adequate sleep.
What that means, according to sleep experts, is
enforcing a consistent bedtime as well as building in some downtime without TV or video
games so that a childs body can relax and get ready for sleep.
Parents also need to make sleep a priority
in their own lives, Owens says. You need to be convinced of that in order to
set a good example for kids to follow.