Children’s sleep duration may be influenced by how confident their parents are in their abilities to help their kids get enough sleep, according to a new survey-based study.
Longer sleep for kids was also associated with how long the parents slept themselves.
The findings suggest that efforts to address poor sleeping habits among children may be more effective with family-based interventions.
According to the survey, 57 percent of parents reported feeling “very” or “extremely” confident that they could help their child get enough sleep. Children of parents with greater confidence got approximately 0.67 more hours of sleep per day. The results remained after controlling for other factors such as child age, gender, race/ethnicity, and parent education.
The study also found that child sleep duration was 0.09 hours per day longer for each one hour increase in parent sleep duration.
“Our study suggests that educating parents about their own sleep health and promoting increased confidence in their ability to help their children get enough sleep are potential areas of intervention to increase child sleep duration, either through formal programs or in a pediatrician’s office,” said lead author Corinna Rea, M.D., instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and attending physician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Children between the ages of six and 12 years should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Habitually sleeping fewer than the number of recommended hours is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems, and it increases health and safety risks.
The researchers also investigated other potential links between child sleep duration and parent behaviors and practices, including screen time, physical activity, and limits placed on child TV viewing. Surprisingly, after adjustment for demographic characteristics, these factors were not significantly associated with child sleep duration.
“Our results also may suggest that individual parent behaviors do not reflect a ‘family lifestyle,’ but rather that parental sleep is directly linked to child sleep irrespective of others behaviors,” said Rea.
The research involved 790 parents with a mean age of 41 years and their children, between the ages of six and 12 years, who were participating in a randomized controlled obesity trial. Trained research assistants administered a survey to parents over the phone. About 92 percent of the respondents were mothers. Average daily sleep duration was 6.9 hours for parents and 9.2 hours for children.
The authors note that there are several parental behaviors that can play into the link between parent and child sleep duration. For example, parents may influence child sleep duration by serving as role models, encouraging and supporting their child’s healthy choices, or establishing a family bedtime.
Study results are published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.