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Young Children Don't Sleep Enough

Even Infants Are Sleep-Deprived, a Trend That Continues
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Bad Habits Start Young

But perhaps most surprising: Half of all infants are sleep-deprived; they are getting less sleep than they should -- usually falling short by about one to two hours per 24-hour period.

This suggests that even as babies, children are developing bad sleeping habits. "And that concerns me as they move on to adolescence -- when we know they don't get enough sleep," says Amy Wolfson, PhD, of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., who has studied infant sleep habits and the effects on their parents.

"Families really need to rethink the importance of sleep in their households," Wolfson tells WebMD. "When children don't get enough sleep, their parents don't get enough sleep." Indeed, the survey finds that parents of infants lose about 200 hours of sleep in their child's first year.

She wasn't involved in the new survey, but her own research shows that a baby's sleep deprivation at levels noted in the NSF survey creates "enough everyday stress" to accumulate to levels of a large traumatic event," says Wolfson, author of The Woman's Book of Sleep: A Complete Resource Guide.

"Parents whose babies sleep better report higher satisfaction levels in their marriage," she says. "Can we say parents will inevitably divorce if their infants don't get enough sleep? No, but it is a risk factor that should raise concern."

She says that well-meaning parents often mistakenly set the tone for their infant's poor sleep habits. "Many wait in their infant or toddler's room until they fall asleep, but when you do that, you don't teach the child self-soothing techniques."

Instead, she recommends that parents help calm their children with goodnight rituals -- such as reading a story -- and then leave before the child falls asleep. Babies who fall asleep while alone in their room are more likely to sleep the night. "Children who need you to be in the room to fall asleep are more likely to need you when they wake in the middle of night; they look for you to be there."

Another surprising finding: A slight majority of doctors -- 52% -- don't ask parents about their child's sleep habits during medical exams. The American Academy of Pediatrics initiated a treatment policy in 2002 suggesting that pediatricians should.

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