At a Glance:
- 76% of surveyed U.S. adults with a sleep issue or disorder share a household with at least one other person who does.
- 73.2% of adults with no sleep issues say no one in their household has a sleep issue.
- 41.8% of adults with insomnia share a household with someone who also has insomnia.
- 41.5% of survey respondents agree that sleep issues run in their family.
- 66.4% of parents say their children have healthy sleep habits.
Lori Wilson occasionally walked and talked in her sleep as a child. It’s a form of parasomnia, a non-REM sleep disorder that’s most common in children. Now, as a 40-year-old mom of three boys in Robertsdale, Alabama, Wilson sees similar sleep issues in her 10-year-old son, Noah.
“Noah has never slept well a day in his life,” Wilson says. “When he was a baby, I kept waiting for him to sleep through the night … [but] he never made it past a few hours at a time. He now has trouble falling asleep, and he walks and talks in his sleep. I will sometimes wake up to him just sitting at the foot of my bed in a half-awake, half-asleep state.”
“There may be a combination of genes that affects sleep-wake regulation, our circadian rhythms, and our mood and energy levels. Those, in combination with environmental influences, can really contribute to that shared familial component.” — Wendy M. Troxel, RAND Corp.
The Wilsons are not alone. A 2022 study on family sleep characteristics Trusted Source Wiley Online Library Wiley Online Library is one of the largest and most authoritative collections of electronic journals published by Wiley, as well as a vast and growing collection of reference works and other books. See Full Reference suggests that “poor” sleep and even some sleep disorders, including insomnia and sleep apnea Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference are shared among family members who live in the same household. The study found that 47% of families share “good sleep.” In 29% of families studied, mothers and adolescents share “poor sleep.”
Similar results arose among the 1,250 U.S. adults that SleepFoundation.org surveyed in November 2022 who lived in multi-person households. Of surveyed adults, 76% say they have a sleep issue and also live with someone who has one. Meanwhile, among people who say they do not have a sleep issue, 73.2% say no one else in their household does, either.
So if sleep habits run in the family, or at least in the household, what’s the reason? And can we change course? We take a closer look.
Nature Vs. Nurture
Are sleep issues genetic? Not entirely, according to Wendy M. Troxel, Ph.D., a senior behavioral scientist at RAND Corp. and a SleepFoundation.org medical advisory board member.
“It’s likely a complicated mix of genes and characteristics of the environment, including parenting practices,” Troxel says.
Troxel notes that sleep problems often have a downstream impact on other members of the family. If kids aren’t sleeping well, their parents probably aren’t, either. And while there may be a genetic predisposition Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference to certain types of sleep disorders, there isn’t necessarily one single gene that comes into play.
“There may be a combination of genes that affects sleep-wake regulation, our circadian rhythms, and our mood and energy levels,” Troxel says. “Those, in combination with environmental influences, can really contribute to that shared familial component.”
That could be why some 41.5% of survey respondents agree that sleep issues “run in the family,” with 93.3% of that group also reporting having a sleep disorder. Among these respondents, 80.2% also live with someone who has a sleep disorder.
Consider short-sleepers, or people who sleep less than six hours a night, and oversleepers, those who sleep more than nine. Among survey respondents who qualified as short sleepers, 88.1% experienced at least one sleep issue. Of that group, 57.7% say other household members have a sleep issue. More than half of short-sleepers (51.2%) say that sleep problems run in their family.
Meanwhile, among oversleepers, 87.5% experienced at least one sleep issue, and 79.2% say other household members have a sleep issue.
But more than half of both groups say their children have healthy sleep habits, 56.1% for short-sleepers and 75% for oversleepers.
How? It could be in how our families approach sleep hygiene.
Healthy Sleep Is a Family Affair
Troxel notes that a strong familial component, in addition to some socioeconomic factors Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference , can be important to the quality and quantity of sleep people get.
“Sleep doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” she says, “and this is a major difference in how we’re now starting to view sleep today versus 20 or 30 years ago, when the field of sleep was focused on the individual. We now know that’s not what sleep in the real world looks like. We have to pay attention to things like relationships in the household.”
This might start with parents modeling healthy sleep habits, which 48% of survey respondents say they do; 25.2% say they don’t. Only 13% of respondents say that everyone in their household shares a similar bedtime. Of that group, however, 60.7% say they model healthy sleep habits for their household. And 74.2% say their children have healthy sleep habits.
“Where people live, including how safe their neighborhoods are, whether they have a bed to sleep on, or whether they’re living in crowded living conditions all can also affect the quality and quantity of sleep people get,” Troxel says.
Overall, the percentage of respondents who say their children have healthy sleep habits (66.4%) is about the same as those who determine their children’s bedtime (66.8%). More than half (56.7%) also say their children sleep within one hour of the recommended amount for children in their age group.
In contrast, only 15% of parents allow their children to set their bedtimes. Of this group, 47.1% report their children sleeping within one hour of the recommended amount for children in their age group. That’s nearly a 10% dip in sleep time, suggesting that parental control over sleep schedules may be beneficial.
“Absolutely, parents should set the bedtime [for their children],” says Dr. Nilong Vyas, pediatrician, founder of Sleepless in NOLA in New Orleans, and a SleepFoundation.org medical-review panel member. “Children are of the mindset, ‘I want what I want when I want it.’ So, if children are responsible for setting their bedtime, it’s likely not going to end well for either the parent or child.”
Meg Sacks, a 44-year-old mother of four from Jacksonville, Florida, agrees that her family gets a healthy amount of sleep because of their bedtime schedule.
“We are very stringent about getting the kids to bed at night because they are all early risers, especially on school nights,” Sacks says. “The 14-year-old has more leeway now because her homework keeps her up late, but I will encourage her to go to bed and get to school in the morning early to finish it, instead of staying up late.”
Family Tips For a Good Night’s Sleep
Schedules are important for Wilson, too. Her childhood parasomnia has given way to sleep hallucinations, which she combats by setting a rigid bedtime and nightly routine. Times of stress or major changes can trigger episodes for her and her son.
“Noah has to really process his stress before bed to keep from being awake until really late,” she says. “His doctor suggested a worry book to help with falling asleep. We also stop screen time early and have a solid bedtime routine for him.”
“Children are of the mindset, ‘I want what I want when I want it.’ So, if children are responsible for setting their bedtime, it’s likely not going to end well for either the parent or child.” — Dr. Nilong Vyas, pediatrician
Not being able to sleep, or insomnia, was the most common sleep disorder reported among survey respondents (40.2%). Of people reporting it, 41.8% say someone else in their household also has it. Experts say we may be genetically predisposed to insomnia.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 70 million U.S. adults live with a chronic sleep issue Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. See Full Reference , insomnia and other sleep issues may hit many households. Experts suggest additional tips for families to maintain healthy sleep habits, regardless of sleep issues they face.
- Stick to a schedule. “Set a routine at bedtime, as well as a wake-time schedule,” Dr. Vyas says. “Try to stick with that as much as possible. Reach out to a specialist if you are having difficulty trying to establish that on your own.”
- Allow time to wind down. Troxel suggests doing something pleasurable that stimulates social connection with the family, such as talking or reading a book before bed. “Feeling close and connected at night is a great way to stimulate feelings of being secure and safe, which in turn, can facilitate good sleep,” she says.
- Set up a family charging station. Charge devices outside the bedroom to model good sleep. Parents who use technology in the bedroom Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. See Full Reference are more likely to have children who use technology in the bedroom.
- Be flexible with teenagers. Adolescents have a biological tendency to stay up later and sleep in later. Troxel recommends implementing nighttime rules for when parents go to sleep.
The survey commissioned by SleepFoundation.org was conducted on the online survey platform Pollfish on Nov. 2, 2022. Results are from 1,250 survey participants who were ages 16 and older and lived in the United States in a household of two or more people, at least one of whom was age 18 or younger, at the time of the survey. All attested to answering the survey questions truthfully and accurately.
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