Reasons for Poor Sleep in Childhood Differ In Boys and Girls Interview with:
Sabine Plancoulaine, MD, PhD
Senior Researcher
NSERM, UMR1153 Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne Paris Cité Research Center (CRESS), early Origin of the Child’s Health And Development (ORCHAD) Team,
Villejuif, France; and
Paris Descartes University, Paris, France

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Plancoulaine: A decrease in children’s total sleep duration has been reported in the last decades, suggesting that more and more children are now in chronic sleep debt. There is now accumulating evidence that insufficient quantity and/or quality of sleep have a negative impact on children’s physical and mental health development, cognitive function, behaviour and academic success. Sleep disorders and short sleep duration in childhood have also been suggested as predictors of sleep disorders and short sleep duration in adolescence and adulthood. An increased risk of obesity has been shown among shorter sleeper children, especially boys. 

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Plancoulaine: In our study we aimed at describing sleep duration in 3 years old children from a French pre-birth cohort (546 boys and 482 girls) and at investigating gender-specific factors associated with shorter sleep duration defined as <12h/24h.

In our study, children aged 3 years slept on average 12hrs35 and 91% of them were napping. Parental presence when falling asleep (e.g. holding hands) was the only factor associated with shorter sleep duration in both gender and increased the risk by around 3 and 4 in boys and girls respectively.

The other associated risk factors were more gender-specific. Among boys, each hour of TV viewing duration increased by 72% the risk of being a short sleeper and each additional standard deviation of BMI increased the risk by 31%. Among girls, adherence to a fruit and vegetables dietary pattern divided the risk of being short sleeper by 2 while being cared at home increased it by 2.5 folds.

Other investigated factors were not associated (i.e. familial incomes, parental educational level, maternal age at birth, maternal pre-pregnancy BMI, maternal depression status (at birth and at 3y), gestational age, child’s birth rank, birth weight and physical activities at 3y, existence of night awakenings at 3y).

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Plancoulaine: As early as 3 years old, several factors are associated with short sleep duration. Most of them are gender differentiated.

Among girls, these factors are related to behaviour (parental presence, child care and fruit and vegetable oriented diet) while among boys, some are related to behaviour (parental presence and TV viewing duration), but others are also more physiological or health-oriented factors (BMI but not dietary pattern).

Prevention and counseling, especially focused on behavioural factors, may ameliorate children sleep and subsequently children health.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Plancoulaine: Our results suggest either a patterning of parental behaviours that differs according to gender, or a gender-specific sleep physiology, or both. Further studies are needed to explore these hypotheses and to assure that prevention actions really reduce observed risks.



J Sleep Res. 2015 Dec;24(6):610-20. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12308. Epub 2015 Jun 4.

Gender-specific factors associated with shorter sleep duration at age 3 years.

Plancoulaine S1, Lioret S1, Regnault N1,2, Heude B1, Charles MA1; Eden Mother-Child Cohort Study Group.

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Sabine Plancoulaine, MD, PhD (2015). Reasons for Poor Sleep in Childhood Differ In Boys and Girls 

Last Updated on November 17, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD