Sleep Problems Common in School Kids
Parents Often Unaware of Sleep Issues, Study Shows
Nov. 14, 2006 -- Sleep problems are common among elementary-school-aged
children, but they are often not recognized by parents, new research shows.
When 8-year-old twins and their parents were surveyed, almost half of the
children reported experiencing difficulty falling asleep while fewer than one
in five parents said their kids had sleep problems.
Based on their findings, researchers concluded that both genetic and
environmental factors influence sleep problems among school-aged children.
Researchers Alice M. Gregory, PhD, of King's College London tells WebMD that
the frequency of self-reported sleep problems among the children in the study
should not escape the notice of pediatricians.
The study is published in the November/December issue of the journal
"The finding that there is a high prevalence of sleep difficulties in a
nonclinical sample suggests that it may be worthwhile to [ask about] sleep
difficulties in children undergoing routine medical checkups," she
300 Twin Pairs
The study included 300 twin pairs and their parents. About half of the twins
were identical, meaning that they shared all the same genes.
Twin studies are performed to better understand how genes and environment
influence health and development.
In the newly reported sleep study, twins and their parents were asked about
specific sleep problems.
Among the main findings:
17% of the parents said their children usually had problems falling asleep
(not falling asleep in 20 minutes); 45% of the children reported having
19% of parents said their children showed signs of parasomnia, meaning that
they talked in their sleep, walked in their sleep, or exhibited excessive
movement during sleep.
Children who resisted going to bed were more likely to report having trouble
Childhood sleep researcher Marc Weissbluth, MD, tells WebMD he is not
surprised that so many parents were unaware of their children's sleep
Weissbluth is a practicing pediatrician and a pediatrics professor at
Northwestern School of Medicine in Chicago. He wrote the book, Healthy
Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
"Parents know when their very young children aren't sleeping well, but
children learn as they get older not to bother their parents at night," he
says. "When this happens the problem shifts to teachers."
Weissbluth says sleep problems among elementary-school-aged children often
manifest as behavioral and academic issues at school. But sleep deprivation is
rarely recognized as the cause of classroom problems.
"Sleep is an underappreciated health habit," he says. "We all
know that junk food is unhealthy for our children, but so is junk sleep.
Healthy sleep is to the brain what healthy food is to the body."
Allowing children to stay up too late and overstimulating them immediately
before bedtime are two common examples of unhealthy sleep habits, Weissbluth
He adds that the failure to address sleep issues could set children up for a
lifetime of problems.
"Sleep is a learned behavior," he says. "You don't grow out of
sleep problems. They just show up in different ways throughout life. An
adolescent who never learned good sleep habits as a child is at risk for all
the predictable poor outcomes like depression, obesity, and drug use. And
teens who don't sleep well often become insomniac adults who rely on sleeping