Less than half of U.S. children are getting enough sleep on school nights

NEW ORLEANS — While waking up in time to catch the morning school bus may be a distant memory for many of us, every age group can relate to feeling exhausted all day due to lack of sleep. The problem may especially be more prominent for kids, whose developing brains need sufficient rest each night. Now, an alarming new study reveals that a staggering amount of U.S. school-aged children aren’t getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

According to research conducted at Brown University, only 48% of school-age children in the U.S. get the recommended nine hours of sleep most weeknights. The study goes on to suggest that children who are able to get enough sleep are much more likely to display a positive outlook towards school, academia, and overall “childhood flourishing,” classified as a measure of behavioral and social well-being.

“Chronic sleep loss is a serious public health problem among children,” says study author Dr. Hoi See Tsao in a release by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  “Insufficient sleep among adolescents, for example, is associated with physical and mental health consequences including increased risk of depression and obesity and negative effects on mood, attention and academic performance.”

The researchers analyzed responses given from the parents and caregivers of 49,050 children, collected via the 2016 and 2017 National Survey of Children’s Health. Respondents answered questions regarding how many hours children in their household usually slept on an average weeknight. The study classified “sufficient sleep” as at least nine hours per weeknight.

Caregivers were also asked if their child was curious and interested in learning new things, if they cared about doing well in school, and if they routinely completed their homework. Furthermore, they were asked if their child usually made a habit of finishing tasks they started, and if their child usually stayed calm and in control when they encountered academic challenges.

Overall, only 47.6% of the 6 to 17-year-old children involved in the study were found to be sleeping at least nine hours each weeknight regularly. This group of children were also positively associated with numerous positive “flourishing” markers. In comparison to children who did not usually get nine hours of sleep, those who did had 44% better odds of showing interest and curiosity in learning; 33% better odds of regularly completing their homework; 28% better odds of caring about their schoolwork; and 14% better odds of finishing tasks they start.

As far as why so many children aren’t getting enough sleep, the study’s authors identified various risk factors, including: inadequate parental care, mental health conditions, time spent on digital devices, and adverse childhood experiences.

Dr. Tsao suggests that parents focus on limiting screen time before bed and establishing a set bedtime routine for school nights.

“Interventions like these may help children demonstrate more measures of childhood flourishing, enhance their development and give them brighter futures,” she adds.

The study was presented at the AAP 2019 National Conference & Exhibition on October 26th, 2019.

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Ben Renner

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