Inadequate Sleep Begins in Young Children and Worsens With Adolescence Interview with:

Summer Sherburne Hawkins, PhD, MS Assistant Professor Boston College School of Social Work Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

Dr. S. S. Hawkins

Summer Sherburne Hawkins, PhD, MS
Assistant Professor
Boston College School of Social Work
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Sleep is so important for all of us—especially for children and adolescents as their brains and bodies continue to develop. Inadequate sleep is associated with a number of health problems including obesity, cognitive functioning, and chronic illnesses. Increasing the amount and quality of sleep are public health priorities in the US. Currently, school-aged children are recommended to get at least 10 hours and adolescents to get 9-10 hours of sleep daily. However, less than one third of students report getting 8 or more hours of sleep during the school week and total sleep time decreases from infancy through adulthood.

The new Healthy People 2020 ‘Sleep Health’ target only monitors adolescent sleep and there are no national data for younger children. Thus, there is little known about the age that sleep issues may begin and whether the prevalence of sleep issues is changing over time. Furthermore, only a few studies have examined the social determinants of sleep in children and adolescents, particularly whether there are differences across racial/ethnic and educational groups.

An overarching gap in the literature remains—monitoring sleep and identifying disparities across the life course. Using a nationally-representative sample of US children and adolescents, we examined trends and social determinants of inadequate sleep in 6-17-year-olds. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: We found that inadequate sleep occurred as young as age 6 years and increased with age, became more prevalent, and was socially patterned. In 2011/2012, between one-third and one-half of parents reported their child age 6-17 years did not get enough sleep on 0-6 days out of the past week.

Differences in inadequate sleep across household education and income also became more pronounced with age, such that parents of 14-17-year-olds from the most advantaged households had the highest likelihood of reporting inadequate sleep. We also found that parents’ report that neighbors did not watch out for other’s children – a measure of the social environment – was associated with an increased risk for inadequate sleep across all ages.

In order to prevent inadequate sleep across the life course, surveillance and monitoring is needed across all age groups to identify critical periods for intervention. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: More research is needed to understand why inadequate sleep increases as children grow up, particularly during the transition from childhood through adolescence. For example, we need to better understand how the rise in media use may interfere with sleep quantity and quality across all ages. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: We also reviewed the major national health surveys in the US to identify those that included a question on sleep for children and adolescents. Currently, only three national questionnaires ask about sleep, it is not monitored in children younger than age 6, and there is little consistency in the sleep questions, responses, and reporting methods. As we have shown, from 2003 through 2011/2012, the proportion of 6-9-year-olds with inadequate sleep increased from 23 to 36%. Although this suggests that insufficient sleep is likely developing between infancy and childhood, there are currently no nationally-representative surveys in the US capturing these changes in sleep patterns. Collecting information on sleep, consistently across surveys, and across the life course is essential to help prevent sleep issues and the associated physical and mental health consequences. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Social determinants of inadequate sleep in US children and adolescents
Hawkins, S.S. et al.
Public Health , Volume 0 , Issue 0

Published Online:May 17, 2016

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Last Updated on May 23, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD