1 in 4 parents say their young child can’t go to sleep because of being worried or anxious, report reveals

In a recent Mott Poll Report using data from the National Poll on Children's Health, researchers investigated the bedtime and sleep routines of children between the ages of one and six.

Study: Mott Poll Report: Getting Young Children to Bed: Sweet Dreams or Nightmare? Image Credit: Ekaterina Vidiasova/Shutterstock.com
Study: Mott Poll Report: Getting Young Children to Bed: Sweet Dreams or Nightmare? Image Credit: Ekaterina Vidiasova/Shutterstock.com

Their findings indicate that while the majority of parents have bedtime routines in place for their children, many children experience anxiety or disturbances at bedtime and that one in five children is given melatonin to help them sleep.

Background

Children's sleep significantly impacts their mood, brain development, and risk for issues like excess weight. Poor sleep among children can also affect their parents' sleep and overall health.

Ensuring sufficient sleep for young children between one and six years old can be challenging due to evolving sleep needs and patterns influenced by factors like stopping daytime naps, moving to a toddler bed, starting school, and changes in daily routines.

A consistent bedtime routine helps children transition to sleep by providing a sense of comfort and security and offering valuable one-on-one time with parents. Turning off electronics is crucial, as blue light disrupts melatonin production.

The sleep environment also plays a vital role; children benefit from having their quiet bed in a dark room, although some parents use nightlights or cracked doors to avoid total darkness. White noise machines, if used, should not exceed 50 decibels and be placed at least seven feet from the bed to prevent hearing damage.

About the study

Researchers gathered information from a nationally representative sample from a household survey of parents of children between one and six who answered questions related to their child's bedtime and sleep routines.

Findings

The completion rate of the survey was 61% among those who were contacted for participation, and the responses of 781 parents with at least one child in the age group of interest were included in the report. The estimated margin of error for the findings was between 2 and 4 percentage points.

The majority of parents (90%) establish bedtime routines for their children, incorporating activities such as brushing their teeth (90%). Other aspects include reading them bedtime stories (67%), taking a bath (54%), drinking water (47%), switching off devices (41%), praying (31%), discussing their day (23%), and having a snack (23%).

At bedtime, children often hold a stuffed animal or blanket (47%), use a pacifier (7%), or suck their fingers or thumbs (6%).

Regarding sleep arrangements, 47% of children sleep in their own rooms, 21% share a room with siblings, 22% sleep in their parents' bedroom, and 10% split the night between their own room and their parents' room.

To help their children fall asleep, more than 60% of parents use a night light, 14% leave the door cracked to let some light in, and one in four keep the room completely dark.

 Additionally, while nearly 40% of parents maintain a quiet environment, others use soft music (15%), white noise (33%), or television shows or videos (13%). About 31% of parents frequently, and 19% sometimes, stay in the room until the child has fallen asleep.

More than one in four parents (27%) find it challenging to put their children to bed. Those who report facing difficulties are less likely to have bedtime routines in place, and more inclined to use videos or TV and remain in the bedroom until their child sleeps.

Children's sleep can be disrupted by playing late (65%), anxiety (23%), or noise coming from other rooms (43%).

Additionally, 36% of children often wake up crying or otherwise upset, 43% move to their parent's bed, and 31% insist on a parent sleeping in their room. To address sleep issues, 19% of parents report giving melatonin to their child, and 15% have consulted a healthcare provider.

Conclusions

Key findings from the report include that one in four children have trouble sleeping due to worry or anxiety, one in five are given melatonin, and one in three parents stay with their child until they fall asleep.

One in five parents reported giving their child melatonin for sleep, but these products lack rigorous safety testing, and their long-term effects are unknown. Parents considering melatonin should consult with a pediatrician, start with the lowest dose, and store it out of children's reach.

Children may resist bedtime due to fears of the dark or anxiety. Parents should allow time to discuss their child's day, offering reassurance and a calming presence without staying in the room.

For children who wake up during the night, parents should have a consistent approach, whether taking the child back to bed or allowing them to stay in the parents' room. Reducing exposure to frightening content and maintaining a soothing bedtime routine can decrease the frequency of nightmares and improve sleep quality.

Journal reference:
Priyanjana Pramanik

Written by

Priyanjana Pramanik

Priyanjana Pramanik is a writer based in Kolkata, India, with an academic background in Wildlife Biology and economics. She has experience in teaching, science writing, and mangrove ecology. Priyanjana holds Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation (National Centre of Biological Sciences, 2022) and Economics (Tufts University, 2018). In between master's degrees, she was a researcher in the field of public health policy, focusing on improving maternal and child health outcomes in South Asia. She is passionate about science communication and enabling biodiversity to thrive alongside people. The fieldwork for her second master's was in the mangrove forests of Eastern India, where she studied the complex relationships between humans, mangrove fauna, and seedling growth.

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