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A Third of Kids Do Not Get Enough Sleep, New CDC Report Reveals

young boy asleep in a bed with a teddy bear

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study showed 34.9% of kids aren’t getting enough sleep at night.
  • Race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and health all contributed to higher rates of sleeplessness. 
  • A lack of sleep can hinder a child’s ability to do well in school, as well as contribute to poor health.

A new study found that over the course of two years, a third of children were consistently not getting enough sleep each night. Because rest is such an important part of a person’s day, a lack of sleep can contribute to a number of concerns in a child’s health and wellbeing.

The amount of sleep needed by children varies based on age, but not getting enough of it can have similar outcomes regardless of age. A lack of sleep can contribute to issues in school, health problems, and more. For this reason, taking care of a child’s sleep routine is a crucial part of their overall health.  

A Closer Look at the Findings

The September 2021 report shared by the CDC examined sleep-related findings from 2016 to 2018. The research took into consideration how much sleep children ages 4 months to 17 years got each night, coming to the conclusion that 34.9% of them were not getting enough sleep.

The research also showed that children who are minorities or in a lower economic class experienced sleeplessness at an even higher rate. Children with "special healthcare needs" (such as requiring prescription medication or having a disability) were also more likely to not get enough sleep. 

For those in racial and ethnic minorities—including the 50% of Black children who get insufficient sleep—and those with lower economic status, the study suggests racism and food insecurity as contributors leading to increased stress. The stress would, in turn, make sleeping more difficult. The study also suggests that parents in a lower socioeconomic class may work nontraditional schedules, making it harder to maintain a sleep schedule for their children. 

However, one significant limitation of this study is that parents supplied responses for how much sleep their children were getting. It is possible that the figures provided weren’t always accurate, and it was suggested that older children self-reporting their sleep patterns could be more reliable.

Why Sleep Is Important For Children

Sleep plays an important role in a child’s overall health and wellbeing. When children don’t get enough sleep, they can experience weight issues, higher levels of stress, and even have trouble in school.

Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, MD, a pulmonary pediatrician at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, says, “Children with sleep deprivation have more difficulties learning in school and more behavioral problems.” Not getting enough sleep can also heavily affect teenagers, according to Dr. Lasso-Pirot, who noted that a lack of sleep can increase teens’ penchant for “risky behaviors.”

Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, MD

Sleep is a time of body restoration.

— Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, MD

When the body is asleep, it’s repairing itself from the day and getting ready to take on the next day. As Dr. Lasso-Pirot put it, “Sleep is a time of body restoration.”

While asleep, the body goes through different sleep cycles, which are all part of the circadian rhythm. As this is happening, the body is producing hormones like melatonin (which contributes to healthy sleep), cortisol (which regulates stress), ghrelin (which regulates hunger), and a growth hormone (which helps bones and muscles grow).

When children aren’t sleeping enough, the body isn’t able to manage these hormones properly, which is why children could experience increased stress, weight gain, and even weakened muscles.

Tips to Help Kids Sleep Better

Children of different ages need different amounts of sleep each night. In general, younger children need more sleep than older children, but there is a healthy range for each age.

How Much Sleep Does My Child Need?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, children need, on average, the following amounts of sleep per day.

  • Infants 4 to 12 Months: 12 to 16 hours, including naps
  • Children 1 to 2 Years Old: 11 to 14 hours, including naps
  • Children 3 to 5 Years Old: 10 to 13 hours, including naps
  • Children 6 to 12 Years Old: 9 to 12 hours
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 Years Old: 8 to 10 hours

For parents who want to help their children sleep better, there are a number of ways to help them clean up their sleep hygiene. Renee Wasserman, PT, MPH, an infant and child sleep consultant with Rested, has different techniques that she recommends for each age group.

For babies, she says, “Separate feeding and sleeping so that your little one does not depend on eating to fall asleep.” She also adds that keeping the room dark and cool can help. 

As children get older, Wasserman notes that it becomes even more important to keep them on a consistent sleep schedule. “​​Set clear boundaries and expectations relative to having your child stay in [their] bed all night,” she says. For children who may be afraid of the dark, using a dim night light can also help alleviate any fears.

Renee Wasserman, PT, MPH

Use the bed for sleep only and not doing homework.

— Renee Wasserman, PT, MPH

When it comes to teenagers, Wasserman’s biggest suggestion is to not use devices in bed or right before bed. The harsh light from phones and tablets is not only harmful to the eyes but also can make it more difficult to fall asleep. “Use the bed for sleep only and not doing homework,” she also suggests. By creating a clear separation between work and sleep, it can be easier for the brain to understand exactly what the bed should be used for.

What This Means For You

Sleep is an incredibly important piece of a child’s day. It’s crucial to their development that they’re getting enough sleep each night, which means it’s important for parents to ensure that it's happening.

If you know your child isn’t getting enough sleep, try these tips to help them at night. If your child’s sleeplessness is prolonged, it may be time to visit your healthcare provider. They can determine if there’s an underlying cause for insomnia and find out ways to help your child sleep better each night.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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