Friday, March 9, 2012

The History of Sleep Recommendations

Over the past several years we have written a number of blogs about sleep: how lack of sleep  impacts learning, falling asleep, the importance of sleep for adults, and the impact of sleep deprivation on teens.

But, for all the attention we have paid to the subject, we were most interested in a new article that looks at recommendations about sleep and how much children actually sleep from an historical perspective. Never Enough Sleep: A Brief History of Sleep Recommendations for Children, published in this month's Pediatrics, looks at recommendations in medical literature from 1887 through 2009. The researchers were able to identify 32 sets of recommendations about how much sleep children should have, which broke into 360 age-specific sleep recommendations.

There were several interesting findings. First, the amount of sleep recommended by "experts" and the actual amount of sleep that children had per night each fell by about 70 minutes through the course of the 20th century. In addition, in the 83% of studies where data was available to compare actual sleep to recommended sleep, the amount of actual sleep was 37 minutes less than recommended sleep -- a number that held steady for all ages of children and over the full time frame of the data studied. 

The authors note that while the medical literature they reviewed -- from the earliest to the most contemporary sources -- all talked about things like "sleep hygiene" and the pressures of modern life (from radio, to television, to computers and video games) on childrens' sleep habits, only one study actually provided research based data for the amount of sleep children should receive. The authors note this lack of hard science and urge that empirical studies be undertaken to understand the actual mechanisms by which inadequate sleep impacts health and performance.

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