Survey: Kids and Sleep

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Learn how parents perceive their child’s overall sleep and why.

Methodology

There were 1,000 surveys fielded between November 19 and December 4, 2021, among U.S. parents (aged 18+) who have children aged 3 to 18.

Screening criteria ensured that respondents had children who were currently in school (pre-K to 12th grade). If respondents had more than one child in school, then respondents answered the survey questions about only one child.

A sample size of 1,000 provides a ±3.1% margin of error at 95%.

Survey Objectives

  • Understand parents’ perceptions of their child’s overall sleep and why.
    • Assess parents’ perceptions on how well their child is sleeping.
    • Understand indicators/effects of good/bad sleep (e.g., behaviors, arguments/ abnormal bad behavior, dark eye circles, etc.).
  • Uncover possible causes of good/bad sleep, including:
    • Bedtime/morning routines and variances (e.g., weekend versus school nights).
    • Bedroom environment (e.g., entertainment, smartphone, computer, sharing bedrooms/beds, new/old mattress/bed, etc.).
    • Child’s mental/physical health (e.g., peer pressure, stress, asthma, etc.).
    • Major routine/schedule variances (e.g., new school/home/grade/friends/etc., parent work from home, new/lost job, etc.).
  • Uncover unusual/unique behaviors that are transpiring around child’s sleep.
    • Discover unusual things parents may be trying to get their child to sleep.
    • Identify any uncommon or unique bedtime habits the child may have (e.g., special music, lights, bed checks (monsters), etc.).

Report Overview

A quick scan of news media and social media will surface numerous stories and posts about the unique challenges and stresses that children today face in school and their lives. Several previous Better Sleep Council studies have shown a relationship between stress and poor sleep. So, it comes as something of a surprise when this study found that a large majority of parents say their kids are getting the sleep they need. More than three-quarters of parents say their kids are sleeping well – having healthy sleep routines, displaying positive moods upon waking and doing well in school. This result may be in large measure because of the priority parents are placing on ensuring their kids get the sleep they need – enforcing routine weeknight bedtimes, limiting screen time and helping them get to sleep, whether by conventional methods – reading to them or telling them bedtime stories – or unconventional methods – special rewards or watching a boring movie. The study found that children who don’t have regular bedtimes and/or spend more time with devices are more likely to sleep poorly compared to their peers.

While most kids are sleeping well, many parents who say their child has experienced recent stress believe their child is not sleeping well. In this study, congruent with prior BSC studies, parents reported school – homework/tests/grades – to be the leading cause of stress for their children. Other stressors include self-esteem issues, illness and life changes, such as divorce, death in the family and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study suggests that parental involvement in regulating and enabling a good night’s sleep – as well as mitigating the effects of stress on their children – will help kids get a better night’s sleep.

Key Takeaways

A Sleep Index (SI) was created to profile school-aged children who are excellent sleepers and those who are poor sleepers (from the perception of their parents). See appendix for more details.

  • Overall, 84% of parents feel their child is getting enough sleep. The top three reasons include: has a good bedtime/sleep routine (60%), wakes up in a good mood (58%) and performs well academically (58%).
  • Parents who feel their child is not getting enough sleep report feeling this way because their child: stays up too late (49%), has a difficult time waking up in the morning (39%) and complains of being tired (39%).
    • According to parents, younger school-aged children tend to sleep better than older children.
  • Most children (80%) have a consistent bedtime on school nights (at least three of the five nights). Despite this pattern, most children typically go to their room later on weekend nights than they do on school nights and tend to sleep in a little longer than they do during the school week.
    • Children who do not have a consistent bedtime during the week (two nights a week or less) are 3.5 times more likely to be poor sleepers than excellent sleepers.
  • Children spend the greatest amount of their free time playing on electronics, with those who are poor sleepers (13.5 hours per week) spending significantly more time doing so compared to excellent sleepers (9.1 hours per week).
  • Almost two-thirds of children (62%) have recently experienced some type of stress in their life. Children who have not recently experienced stress in their life are 2.4 times more likely to be excellent sleepers.
    • The top three stressors are homework (28%), grades/test scores (19%) and self-esteem issues (19%).
  • Children who have recently experienced stress in their life related to each of the following are more likely to be poor sleepers than excellent: homework, grades/test scores, self-esteem issues, significant life changes and illness.
    • Significant life changes included mentions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, moving, death, divorce/family issues and trauma/mental illness.
  • Most parents have tried traditional methods to help their child sleep at some point in their child’s life – many mentioned driving around in a car, sleeping with/in their child’s rooms, reading books, telling stories, singing/dancing, using melatonin, taking electronics/limiting internet – but several had some interesting ways to get their child to sleep.
    • Themes included activities such as listening to special music/sounds, watching special videos, sleeping with pets, exercise, etc.

Detailed Findings

Parents’ Perceptions of Child’s Sleep

What age of children in school are sleeping the best in America?

  • Younger school-aged children tend to sleep better than older children, according to parents.
    • High schoolers represent 37% of poor sleepers compared to 24% of excellent sleepers.

Do children have a consistent bedtime on school nights? [1]

  • Most children (80%) have a consistent bedtime on school nights (at least three of the five nights) and extracurriculars do not seem to have an impact on when children go to bed on school nights. [2]
    • Excellent sleepers (58%) are 2.5 times more likely than poor sleepers (23%) to have a consistent bedtime all five school nights per week. The vast majority of excellent sleepers (89%) have a consistent bedtime at least three of the five school nights each week compared to 62% of poor sleepers.
    • Children who do not have a consistent bedtime during the week (two nights a week or less) are 3.5 times more likely to be poor sleepers than excellent sleepers (these children make up 38% of poor sleepers compared to 11% of excellent sleepers).

When do children generally go to their room for the night? [3] When do they go to sleep? [4]

  • Most children typically go to their room later on weekend nights than they do on school nights and tend to sleep in a little longer than they do during the school week.
    • On school nights, kids who go to bed earlier (before 9 p.m.) make up 59% of excellent sleepers compared to 40% of poor sleepers.
    • On school nights, kids who go to bed later (after 10 p.m.) make up 24% of poor sleepers compared to 10% of excellent sleepers.
  • After children go to their room on school nights, it takes poor sleepers (50.3 minutes), on average, about twice as long to actually go to sleep compared to excellent sleepers (28.4 minutes), with 40% of excellent sleepers falling asleep within 15 minutes compared to 16% of poor sleepers. On the other hand, 30% of poor sleepers fall asleep at least one hour after going to their room for the night on school nights compared to 9% of excellent sleepers (likely because poor sleepers are on a device).
  • Children getting between 9-10 hours of sleep per school night are 2.1 times more likely to be excellent sleepers than poor sleepers, whereas children getting less than 7 hours of sleep per school night are 8.5 times more likely to be poor sleepers than excellent sleepers.
    • On weekend nights, kids who go to bed after midnight make up 25% of poor sleepers compared to 10% of excellent sleepers. [5]

Are children getting enough sleep? [6] And how do parents know? [7]

  • Overall, 84% of parents feel their child IS getting enough sleep.
  • Of those who feel their child IS getting enough sleep, the top reasons for feeling that way are because their child:
    • Has a good bedtime/sleep routine (60%).
    • Wakes up in a good mood (58%).
    • Performs well academically (56%).
    • Stays asleep and does not wake up at night (54%).
    • Does not complain of being tired (52%).
    • Wakes up on time in the morning (50%).
  • Parents who feel their child is NOT getting enough sleep feel that way because their child:
    • Stays up too late (49%).
    • Has a difficult time waking up in the morning (39%).
    • Complains of being tired (39%).
    • Wakes up in a grumpy mood (38%).
    • Does not have a good bedtime/sleep routine (33%).

Factors That Impact Children’s Sleep

What do children do before bed that impacts their quality of sleep?

  • Children who typically have a sugary drink/snack an hour or less before bed/whenever they want to represent 32% of poor sleepers/20% of excellent sleepers (1.6 times more likely to be a poor sleeper). [8]
  • Children who have access to/use smartphones before bed on school nights represent 65% of poor sleepers/47% of excellent sleepers (1.4 times more likely to be poor sleepers). [9]
    • Children who do not use smartphones or tablets before bed on school nights are 1.8 times more likely to be excellent sleepers than poor sleepers.
  • If children have access to/use smartphones or tablets before bed on school nights and their time is never/rarely restricted, then they represent 54% of poor sleepers/38% of excellent sleepers (1.4 times more likely to be poor sleepers). But if their time is always/often restricted, then they represent 46% of excellent sleepers/25% of poor sleepers (1.8 times more likely to be excellent sleepers); it’s likely not the device but rather the parental restriction that determines whether kids sleep well or not. [10]
  • Children who typically read before bed on a school night represent 42% of excellent sleepers/26% of poor sleepers (1.6 times more likely to be an excellent sleeper). [11]
  • Children who typically play games with family (not video games) before bed on a school night represent 33% of excellent sleepers/19% of poor sleepers (1.7 times more likely to be an excellent sleeper).
  • Children who typically pray/meditate before bed on a school night represent 26% of excellent sleepers/11% of poor sleepers (2.4 times more likely to be an excellent sleeper).
  • Children who typically play electronics/video games before bed on a school night represent 44% of poor sleepers/36% of excellent sleepers (1.2 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).
  • Children who typically use a device to communicate with friends before bed on a school night represent 40% of poor sleepers/28% of excellent sleepers (1.4 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).
  • Children who regularly use a device to go to sleep at night represent 35% of poor sleepers/21% of excellent sleepers (1.7 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).

Based on what was typed into “Other”:

  • A handful of children draw/do craft projects/puzzles before bed and some exercise/do physical activities.
  • Some parents give their children melatonin before bed.
  • Some kids sleep with a special pillow/body pillow or weighted blanket.

Do medical conditions prevent children from getting a good night’s sleep? [12]

  • Children with at least one type of medical/mental health condition are 1.9 times more likely to be poor sleepers – they represent 70% of poor sleepers/37% of excellent sleepers (driven by anxiety, allergies, ADD/ADHD).
    • Parents of Poor Sleepers (30%) are significantly more likely than parents of Average Sleepers (16%) and Excellent Sleepers (10%) to say that their child has anxiety.
  • The children of parents who feel they have a great relationship with their child represent 94% of excellent sleepers/87% of poor sleepers. [13]
  • The children of parents who feel their child has a solid friend base represent 77% of excellent sleepers/60% of poor sleepers (1.3 times more likely to be an excellent sleeper).
  • The children of parents who feel their child does a good job eating healthy foods represent 72% of excellent sleepers/38% of poor sleepers (1.9 times more likely to be an excellent sleeper).
  • The children of parents who feel their child needs to spend more time outside/being active represent 67% of poor sleepers/47% of excellent sleepers (1.4 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).
  • The children of parents who feel their child spends too much time on devices represent 71% of poor sleepers/38% of excellent sleepers (1.9 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).
  • The children of parents who feel their child eats too much junk food/fast food represent 54% of poor sleepers/23% of excellent sleepers (2.3 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).
  • The children of parents who feel their child has a difficult time being in social situations represent 37% of poor sleepers/15% of excellent sleepers (2.5 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).
  • The children of parents who feel their child struggles to keep up in school represent 30% of poor sleepers/17% of excellent sleepers (1.8 times more likely to be a poor sleeper).

How do children spend their free time? [14]

  • Children spend the greatest amount of their free time playing on electronics, with those who are poor sleepers (13.5 hours per week) spending significantly more time doing so compared to excellent sleepers (9.1 hours per week).
    • Children who do not spend any time doing the following activities each week represent a significantly higher portion of poor sleepers than excellent sleepers:
      • Homework (2.0 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if no time is spent)
      • Participating in sports (1.5 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if no time is spent)
      • Social activities (1.7 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if no time is spent)
      • Playing outside (2.3 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if no time is spent)
      • Reading for leisure (2.1 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if no time is spent)
      • Working/doing chores (2.1 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if no time is spent)

Have children recently experienced stress? [15]

  • Almost two-thirds of children (62%) have recently experienced some type of stress in their life.
  • Children who have not recently experienced stress in their life are 2.4 times more likely to be excellent sleepers – they represent 45% of excellent sleepers/19% of poor sleepers.
  • Children who have recently experienced stress in their life related to each of the following are more likely to be poor sleepers than excellent:
    • Homework (1.7 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if experienced stress)
    • Grades/test scores (1.6 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if experienced stress)
    • Self-esteem issues (2.5 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if experienced stress)
    • *Significant life changes (1.6 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if experienced stress)
    • Illness (1.9 times more likely to be a poor sleeper if experienced stress)

Based on what was typed into “Other”:

  • For some, the COVID-19 pandemic caused stress and made it difficult to transition back and forth between virtual learning and bricks-and-mortar learning.

* We probed deeper into “significant life change” and several themes were present, some of which may also be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. [16]

COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Well, the pandemic has made her worry, and she’s a worrier like me. She missed her friends, and she knows it still isn’t safe … so maybe I have something to do with it also by telling her she needs to be careful, but to me, it’s either have her worry or get really sick.
  • They had to go through a pandemic and couldn’t be kids! It messed her up mentally.
  • The pandemic has affected her whole routine and mental health. Also, a family emergency happened a few months ago and she has been depressed.
  • I think COVID-19 has turned everyone’s life around.
  • COVID-19 and everything becoming remote has become stressful on all of us.

Moved (and many are struggling to make friends, some also related to the COVID-19 pandemic)

  • We’ve moved to a new home, and the pandemic restrictions have made him feel isolated.
  • We moved to a new state where neither him nor I know anyone.
  • We moved from a different state, and he had to start a new school. He misses his friends.
  • We made a huge move, then had to turn around and move again, causing him to change from school to school and home to home. All this because of financial hardship.
  • Moved across the country when I lost my job.

Death

  • My son’s dad died, we moved into a new house, and they are in new classrooms.
  • My oldest son, who was 18, passed away back in March, so my other children are still taking it pretty hard.
  • His grandfather has just recently died, and his older sister just recently moved, so those two things I believe are the two serious life changes that are causing him sadness.
  • Since December 2019, we have lost three family members and moved twice.

Divorce/Family Issues

  • Struggling with custody issues.
  • Stepparent and mom breaking up.
  • She is my stepchild, and sometimes her biological mom goes weeks without contacting her.
  • Parents divorced. Father is very distant and picks one child over the other.
  • Moved from one parent’s house to the other.
  • Horrible separation between mother and stepfather. Moved to a new city.
  • Her dad got up and walked out. Moved to a different state, leaving us in a financial crisis. She experiences emotional stress. Sees no positivity from him or his family. Her brother and sisters are the same way.
  • Aunt and niece with special needs moved in, there are new rules, less space, more noise.

Trauma/Mental Illness

  • She’s been through several traumas, she has mental illnesses, and she is bullied at school.
  • Domestic abuse, his biological dad was very abusive toward us.
  • He has social anxiety, and with the COVID-19 pandemic happening, we had to start home-schooling him.
  • Divorce came up quite a bit in terms of a significant life change stress point for children. Children whose parents are married represent 59% of excellent sleepers and 49% of poor sleepers.

When asked, most parents have tried traditional methods to help their child sleep at some point in their child’s life – many mentioned driving around in a car, sleeping with/in their child’s room, reading books, telling stories, singing/dancing, using melatonin, taking electronics/limiting internet – but several had some interesting ways to get their child to sleep. [17]

  • When my son was a baby, he would only fall asleep if you hummed the Darth Vader march from “Star Wars” to him. Now, he hates “Star Wars.”
  • For my youngest, I bought something called Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit. I was desperate, and it was what I considered expensive, but it worked.
  • We used to tell my youngest daughter that we would take her back to the zoo to live with the monkeys if she didn’t go to bed.
  • They’ve tried putting a water-filled glove on her back to make her think mom’s hand was still there. It’s worked twice.
  • We have a device called Muse, and it has an app that’s like a meditation device. It helps each of the people in my house relax and pay attention to breathing. Very successful.
  • My daughter sometimes asked to be in bed with our two dogs. She said it relaxes her to sleep well.
  • Our kids used to get a “winning wrestling belt” as a reward for whoever got in bed and stayed in bed first. It was one of those blingy belts wrestlers wear.
  • Put on a boring movie (he hates musicals) like “Hello, Dolly,” which I love. He went to bed but listened to his music. So, this was unsuccessful!
  • I was blocking internet signal at night, but then he tossed and turned trying to fall asleep. By allowing internet signal, he’ll usually watch shows on his phone until he falls asleep.
  • Sometimes we imagine a special place to meet each other in our dreams, and we’re very descriptive and talk about the place and activities there.
  • Sometimes me or my father would take my kids for car rides trying to get them to go to sleep. We would go spotlighting for deer and the kids would go to sleep.
  • When she was young, she had a hard time falling asleep, so we bought her a special book that was supposed to work. The book worked so well that we decided not to use it anymore because it scared us that we were hypnotizing her or mentally coercing her!
  • Telling her that the cat needed her to lay down with him because he couldn’t fall asleep without somebody being next to him.
  • A few years ago, my friend got her 8-year-old child a tent that goes over their bed. It worked!
  • Playing house with my children, where they are the parents and get my husband and I ready for bed. They mimic what we do to get them ready for bed, then tuck us in and read to us, and they then go into their rooms and go to bed. When we get up and check on them, they are fast asleep in their beds. It is adorable and works every time. Reverse role-play has worked for us.
  • My youngest loved to fall asleep to the sound of the vacuum cleaner, so I just had very clean floors for about three years.
  • A little before bath time, we would take a little jog. If it was cold, then we would run up and down the stairs a bit to get them sleepy. Worked like a charm.
  • Honestly, I bought a small indoor trampoline and often let the kids jump on it like crazy about an hour before bedtime. It’s great exercise, they have fun, and it wears them out to be able to sleep without any distractions because it exhausts them after a while.
  • We have a pretty consistent routine. Of course, that includes tucking in every single one of his stuffed animals, which can be time consuming, but it helps him relax, so it’s worth it. 🙂
  • We watch fish swim on YouTube, and it puts him right to sleep.
  • I used to rub his eyebrows and he would fall asleep quickly. Now, he’s too old for that. LOL
  • My secret trick with both my children is to turn off all the lights. Then, I sit or lay with them. Then, I slowly let my eyes close, taking 5 seconds to close them. I keep them closed for 10 seconds, then repeat. Works every time, even on my 17-year-old child. It’s comforting and strategic. Takes 10-15 minutes. Then, I creep out of the room. It’s almost like a form of hypnotizing. Yet to tell my wife this trick. She still wonders how I do it.
  • Make them watch a very old, boring movie with me until they get tired. It was successful after waiting 20 minutes while watching a movie.
  • I never really had a problem with my children having any problems with sleeping until after the passing of my son. I’ve dealt with that by making sure my children know that he is just fine and praying at nighttime to God and being able to do little things like write him letters and put them in shoeboxes, and I let them know that he gets them in heaven when they write them here.
  • Threaten to put water in ear.
  • I told him that whoever sleeps early, the tooth fairy comes to his bed and puts money for him. It was a very successful way of convincing him.
  • My son has ADHD, so finding a calming routine is hard enough, but on top of that, keeping still long enough to relax. So, I used to brush his hair, then braid it, then unbraided it, then brush, then braid, then unbraided – repetition was key for us.
  • Used Febreze as “monster spray.”
  • They are allowed two small pieces of candy right before they lay down. It’s not a bribe, it’s an exchange.
  • Playing first one asleep wins a prize.
  • Singing Irish drinking songs.
  • Told them they could meet each other in their dreams.
  • I used to have to lay in bed with him and fake sleeping for him to sleep or play a certain type of music through Alexa. I also used to have Alexa read him bedtime stories.

Appendix

Sleep Index

A simple Sleep Index (SI) was created to profile school-aged children who are excellent sleepers and those who are poor sleepers (from the perception of their parents). The SI is calculated using the following questions:

Q6. In general, do you feel your child is getting enough sleep?

Yes 1
No 2

Q7. Overall, how would you describe your child’s sleep in a typical week?

The index yielded three groups, as depicted below, for analysis purposes.

Excellent Sleepers Average Sleepers Poor Sleepers
55% 26% 20%

Parent Profile

Gender % Age % Ethnicity %   Region %
Male 47% 18-24 1% Caucasian 78% South 44%
Female 53% 25-34 25% African American 14% Midwest 24%
35-44 47% Asian/Pacific Islander 3% Northeast 16%
45-54 20% Other 4% West 16%
55+ 6%    
Hispanic 10%

Child Profile

Gender % Grade % Type of Bed %   Age of Mattress %
Male 51% Pre-K to 2nd 20% Twin 41% <1 year old 20%
Female 48% 3rd to 5th 25% Full/Double 30% 1 to 2 years old 42%
Other 1% 6th to 8th 25% Queen 16% 3 to 5 years old 27%
9th to 12th 30% Bunk 7% 6 to 9 years old 5%
King 4% 10+ years old 4%
Loft 2% Not sure 2%
Other 1%

[1] Q4. Does your child have a consistent bedtime on school nights?

[2] Q4A. In general, do extracurriculars (sports, cheer, band, etc.) have an impact on when your child goes to bed on school nights?

[3] Q2. What time does your child generally go to their room for the night?

[4] Q3. How long after your child goes to their room for the night on school nights do you think it takes them to actually fall asleep?

[5] Q5. How many hours of sleep do you think your child typically gets?

[6] Q6. In general, do you feel your child is getting enough sleep? Q7. Overall, how would you describe your child’s sleep in a typical week?

[7] Q7A. Why do say that? Please provide as much detail as possible. [OPEN END] Q8. What makes you think your child IS getting enough sleep? Please select all that apply. Q9. What makes you think your child is NOT getting enough sleep? Please select all that apply.

[8] Q9A. In general, how many hours before bed does your child have their last… [caffeinated beverage, sugary drink/sugary snack]

[9] Q9B. Which of the following, if any, does your child have access to and/or typically use when they go to bed… [smartphone, tablet/iPad]

[10] Q9C. Do you restrict the screen time on your child’s device before bed on school nights?

[11] Q10A. We understand all kids are different and each child may prefer different activities in the evenings before going to bed/sleep. What does your child do in the evenings before going to bed/to sleep on school nights (Sunday – Thursday)? Please select all that apply. We would love to hear if your child does something special or unique that is not listed below (if so, please type in as much detail as possible in “Other.”)

[12] Q14. Does your child have any of the following conditions that may prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep?

[13] Q15. Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following statements when it comes to your child.

[14] Q16. About how many hours per week does your child spend on each of the following activities?

[15] Q17. Has your child recently experienced stress related to any of the following items? Please select all that apply.

[16] Q17A. Please explain a little bit about the significant life change(s) that has/have recently caused stress for your child.

[17] Q18. Many parents struggle with getting their kids to sleep (and to sleep well). In the past, what are some funny or unusual things you and/or your close friends/family members have tried to get your/their child(ren) to sleep? Were they successful? Unsuccessful? Were they time-consuming? What got you to try a new strategy? Please be as detailed as possible so we can truly appreciate the struggle!

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