Even Preschoolers Plagued by Sleep Problems

Some fall short by 2.5 hours, researchers find

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By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 2, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- While the sleep problems that can plague teens and adults are widely known, a new study finds many young children may not be getting enough sack time, either.

About 12 to 15 hours of sleep is usually recommended for children ages 1 to 5, according to Christine Acebo, an assistant professor at Brown University Medical School.

But in her study of 169 children, she found they fell short of that goal.

"When we looked at the full 24 hours (including naps), the older kids got less than 9.5 hours," said Acebo, who's also assistant director of the Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Laboratory, in Providence, R.I. "The 1-year-olds and the 2-year-olds got 10-and-a-half to 11."

"It's less than usually recommended -- 12 to 15 hours is pretty standard," she said.

She called the new research "one of the first studies in a long time to look at the amount of sleep kids this age are getting, using objectives measured in the home other than surveys. They're not getting as much sleep as we think they should."

Previous studies have shown that not enough sleep in older children, teenagers, and adults may lead to physical and cognitive problems, including decreased physical performance, lower academic performance and other daytime problems. And several studies in adults linked lack of sleep to "neuroendocrine abnormalities" that may lead to overeating and obesity, the researchers said.

"We are concerned that the problem of too little sleep extends even to the youngest members of families, though we do not know if this puts them at risk for problems down the line," Acebo said.

Acebo acknowledged that the sleep needs of young children haven't been studied adequately, and that the 12-to-15-hour recommendation is an educated guess. "We don't really know how much sleep kids this age need. Those studies have not been done." The recommendation is based on what experts think is the best amount to foster normal growth and development, she said.

The results appear in the December issue of Sleep.

Acebo's team asked 169 children between ages 1 and 5 to wear activity monitors on their ankles or wrists that helped the researchers evaluate when they slept. The mothers also logged their children's sleep habits in diaries.

The researchers also visited the homes to interview the mothers and put the activity monitors -- called an actigraph -- on the children. During the week, the researchers telephoned the mothers to ask about any problems or illnesses. A second home visit was done at the end of the week to collect the diary and the actigraph, which contained downloadable records of activity.

Other findings: Children in families with lower incomes spent more time in bed at night, but had more night waking and more variable bedtimes than children from higher-income families.

Another expert, Dr. Irwin Benuck, said the findings don't surprise him, but parents should not be alarmed.

"I think we have a lot to learn about sleep in kids and how much sleep they need. I think it's a new area that is evolving right now," said Benuck, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and a professor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University Medical School.

The key, he said, is for parents to pay attention to their child during waking hours to determine if he or she is getting enough sleep.

"The bottom line is how your kid is performing during the day," Benuck said. If you have a 5-year-old and hook him up to a monitor and he is sleeping eight-and-a-half hours at night and has a great day, participates in kindergarten and all his activities and is not moody and sleepy, that child is probably doing fine, he said.

"If you have a kid who is moody during the day and not functioning to his ability, I think it's worth looking at what goes on at night," he added. "If you have a child who has restless sleep and is snoring, take it up with your pediatrician."

In some cases, for instance, children have enlarged tonsils and when they are removed, the sleep quality improves, Benuck said.

More information

To learn more about children and sleep, visit the National Sleep Foundation.

SOURCES: Christine Acebo, Ph.D., sleep researcher, assistant director, Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Laboratory, and assistant professor, Brown Medical School, Providence, R.I.; Irwin Benuck, M.D., pediatrician, Children's Memorial Hospital, and professor, clinical pediatrics, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago; December 2005 Sleep

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