Survey: More than 25% of parents struggle to get their children to sleep

According to the research, some of it can be explained by poor sleep hygiene

More than a quarter of parents find it a challenge to get their children to sleep, according to a new poll. Some of the problems can be explained by poor sleep hygiene, which involves a child’s environment and nighttime habits.

According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, which surveyed a national sample of parents to children 1-6 years old, 27% of respondents said they have trouble getting their kids to sleep. Those parents were found to be less likely to have bedtime routines, more likely to leave the TV on and more likely to stay in their child’s room until they fell asleep.

But there are other major factors at play, too.

“Our report reinforces the common struggle of getting young children to sleep,” Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H., said in a news release.

“When this transition to bedtime becomes a nightly conflict, some parents may fall into habits that work in the moment but could set them up for more sleep issues down the road,” Clark continued. “Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is crucial. When children don’t get enough rest, it can impact their physical development, emotional regulation and behavior.”

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, newborns require 14-17 hours of sleep daily. Infants require 12-16 hours of sleep, toddlers require 11-14 hours, and preschoolers need 10-13 hours. Children, however, face challenges that can make those recommended totals hard to come by.

The Sleep Foundation said nearly half of kids experience sleep issues at some point during childhood. Insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders, affects 20% to 30%, while 1% to 5% are affected by obstructive sleep apnea. Approximately 5% of children sleepwalk, 10% to 17% snore, and around 30% experience night terrors.

Not getting enough sleep, according to the CDC, can lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, poor mental health and other health issues. They also are more likely to have attention and behavior issues.

A major obstacle for young children is anxiety, which over a third of parents surveyed said their children suffer from.

“Many young children go through stages when they become scared of the dark or worry that something bad might happen, causing them to delay bedtime or become distressed by parents leaving the room,” Clark said. “Bad dreams or being awakened in the middle of the night can also disrupt sleep.

“Although this is a normal part of a child’s development, it can be frustrating when parents already feel tired themselves at the end of the day. Parents should find a balance between offering reassurance and comfort while maintaining some boundaries that help ensure everyone — both kids and adults — get adequate sleep.”

To improve a child’s sleep, University of Michigan Health suggested ensuring children have their own bed in a quiet room. They should avoid using sleep aids, such as melatonin, unless prescribed by a doctor. While parents should offer comfort to kids experiencing anxiety, they should also enforce boundaries by not remaining in the room when the child cannot sleep.

Perhaps most important, enforce a regular bedtime routine.

“A predictable bedtime routine provides a sense of security and comfort and signals to the child that it’s time to slow down,” Clark said.

“Knowing what to expect next can reduce anxiety and help children feel safe and relaxed,” Clark added. “Having this dedicated time with parents also promotes bonding and emotional connection, creating positive associations with bedtime.”