Many parents have only a poor understanding of how much sleep their children need, according to a recent study.
One in 4 parents thought children need less sleep than is recommended, while 1 in 5 thought children need more sleep than experts advise. Many parents also reported that TV watching, playing and late dinners interrupted their kids’ regular bedtimes.
“Children who have insufficient sleep are more likely to have difficulties with their attention, mood, learning, health and behavior at home and at school,” said lead author Philippa McDowall of the University of Otago in New Zealand, where the study was conducted.
McDowall and her team surveyed 115 caregivers of children ages 2 to 12, asking them general questions about child sleep as well as how many hours of sleep were needed for different age groups and how often barriers to children’s sleep came up in their home.
On average, the caregivers — most of them were the mothers of the children — answered half of the sleep knowledge questions correctly.
Parents with lower education levels and lower income had poorer knowledge of child sleep.
Parents of younger children were more likely to give correct answers about how much sleep their children need and to report fewer barriers to bedtimes.
Studies elsewhere have found similar patterns.
Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, noted that children can suffer health problems if parents don’t have a good understanding of sleep problems.
“For example, if a parent does not recognize snoring as a potential symptom of sleep apnea, they are unlikely to seek appropriate medical attention,” said Owens, who was not involved in the study.
Owens emphasized the importance of eliminating sleep barriers, such as electronic media. Using screens before bed stimulates the child’s brain and can reduce melatonin, a hormone that is important for sleep regulation, she said.
Other bedtime barriers included visits from family or friends, sickness, late dinners and reading or playing, McDowall said.