If you have the suspicion that your kids are sleeping less than you did at their age, you’re probably right. Recent research from the University of South Australia has found that over the past few decades, the time kids spend sleeping has declined by about ¾ of a minute per year.
That means a typical child today sleeps about 50 minutes less a night than his or her grandparents. And that’s not all the study found – experts have yet to reach any kind of consensus on exactly how much sleep children really need. This may be because there isn’t one fixed answer – some kids need more sleep than others, some prefer to sleep at different times of day. Some kids may just really like to sleep in when they have the chance, whether they need it or not.
The authors of the study, which has been published in the journal Pediatrics, note that from 1897 to 2009, experts have consistently recommended that children sleep about 37 minutes longer then they usually end up sleeping. This raises the question: are our children chronically sleep-deprived? Or do a good number of them just not sleep as long as we think they should?
The study doesn’t make any judgments on that front, but it does conclude that “No matter how much sleep children are getting, it has always been assumed that they need more.” Interestingly enough, over the past century, this lack of “adequate” sleep has consistently been blamed on new technology! (What new technology, the lightbulb?)
What is agreed upon by sleep experts is the fact that not getting enough sleep can have severe consequences. Sleep deprivation impacts learning, certainly, and has been implicated as a cause of everything from behavior problems to childhood obesity. But it’s hard to know exactly what it all means if no one can agree on what amount of sleep will prevent these issues.
It seems that the takeaway is this: if your child doesn’t sleep quite as long as you think they should, don’t beat yourself up about it. As long as they’re not falling asleep in class or otherwise obviously sleepy throughout the day, they’re probably getting enough.
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