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Kids have been getting less sleep than recommended for a century

Getting the kids to fall asleep, and stay there, is a daily challenge for many parents. We blame our busy schedules, our flip-flop parenting, all those computer screens, our night-owl kids themselves - or, all of the above - and fret that our kids' health will suffer.

But sleep researchers have found when it comes to fretting over kids' sleep, 'twas ever thus.

A new study out of the University of South Australia has found that "children have consistently gotten less sleep than recommended guidelines, for at least the past 100 years," reports Time.

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Combing over 300 sleep studies, the oldest being an 1897 French paper, researchers found that sleep recommendations and the amount of time children actually slept declined 0.71 and 0.73 minutes, respectively, a year.

Children consistently got "about 37 minutes less sleep than was recommended," reports Time.

"We found that indeed kids are sleeping less," senior author Tim Olds, a professor of health sciences at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, told Time. "People are always recommending kids sleep more than they do."

So, kids in 1897 were supposed to sleep 1 hour and 15 minutes more than was advised in 2009, Time reports. Along the way, everything from trolley cars to lighting has been blamed for impeding sleep, reports Time.

The researchers observed that sleep recommendations have always been subjective, since it's difficult to pin down ideal sleep times, reports Time.

A quick look at two sources from Canada and the U.S. illustrates the point. Time reports the U.S.'s National Sleep Foundation says babies between the ages of 3 to 11 months should sleep for a total of 14 to 15 hours, for instance.

Here, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends newborns should exceed the top of that range by an hour until they're six months old. Babies six months and up should then get 14 hours, which is an hour less than the U.S. guidelines.

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And the range for Canadian toddlers begins two hours earlier and stops an hour earlier than the range offered for American toddlers - 10-13 hours vs. 12-14 hours.

"We think for no particularly good reason that kids need more sleep than they're getting," Prof. Olds told Time. "Every so often a group of blokes get together and say, What do you recommend, boys? Should we push it up to 9 hours, 15 minutes? It really is like that, honestly. It's an arbitrary public-health line in the sand that people draw."

When asked by Time for his take-home message, Prof. Olds said: "Never trust sleep experts."

Parents, where does this leave you on bedtime tonight? Less guilty if the kids stay up late? Or more stressed that we really don't know how many winks they need?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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