- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

A poll finds that 69 percent of American children lose sleep at least a few nights a week and that overall, youngsters are not getting the recommended amount of sleep for their respective age groups.

The poll, released today by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), shows that children’s poor sleep habits adversely affect their parents or other adult caregivers, some of whom lose an estimated 200 hours of sleep per year.

The findings are based on telephone interviews conducted last fall among a random sample of 1,473 adults who have a child age 10 or younger living in their household. NSF is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to understanding sleep and sleep disorders and to supporting sleep-related research, education and advocacy.

NSF’s 2004 “Sleep in America” poll is the organization’s seventh annual survey, but the first to examine children’s sleeping habits.

“Sleep is a vital asset for a child’s health and overall development, learning and safety,” said Richard L. Gelula, the foundation’s chief executive officer.

“Our new poll finds that many children are not sleeping enough, and many experience sleep problems. What is troublesome is that the problems start in infancy,” Mr. Gelula said.

Mr. Gelula added, “The poll also shows that parents are paying a price for their child’s poor sleep habits, getting less sleep than they feel they need for their own optimum performance.”

Sleep specialists said the problem of sleep deprivation is growing, but too few people — including parents — take it seriously.

A British study released Friday found that 20 percent of youngsters in the United Kingdom get between two and five hours less of sleep nightly than their parents did as children, losing up to one month a year.

Oxford University researchers involved in that study said children are compromising their mental and physical health and their academic achievement because they get so little sleep. Lack of sleep, they said, can affect a child’s immune function and growth, as well as memory, concentration and reaction time.

The 2004 “Sleep in America” poll finds that, on average, children in every age group don’t even meet the low end of the range that specialists recommend for sleep during a 24-hour period.

The poll also shows that many children do not catch up on their sleep on weekends. In fact, it found that about a quarter of preschool and school-age youngsters actually sleep less on weekends than on weekdays.

Nearly 70 percent of children have frequent sleep problems. Common troubles include difficulty falling asleep, night wakings, stalling and resisting going to bed, snoring, having trouble breathing and loud or heavy breathing while sleeping. The children’s sleep difficulties affect their performance the next day.

Parents who were interviewed said at least 30 percent of all children were waking up at least once a night needing attention, including 14 percent of school-age children. Parents also said 30 percent of school-age children had trouble waking up in the morning and 25 percent of infants, toddlers and preschoolers appeared sleepy or overtired the next day.

Culprits responsible for reducing the sleep time of children in the United States are some of the same ones cited in a British study called “Sleep in America.” Oxford researchers blamed the presence of television, computers and other forms of electronic entertainment in children’s bedrooms for contributing to less-structured and less-calming bedtimes than those when parents used to read their children to sleep.

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