Objectives. Sleep patterns and sleep problems in children are not only influenced by a large number of biological and psychologic factors but also by cultural and social factors. Little is known about similarities and differences in sleep patterns and sleep problems among children across countries. We attempted to compare sleep patterns and sleep problems among schoolchildren from 2 countries with distinctive cultural contexts: the United States and China.

Methods. The data come from 2 cross-sectional surveys in 3 elementary schools of Jinan City, People's Republic of China, and 3 elementary schools from a suburban school district in southeastern New England, United States. The Chinese sample consisted of 517 elementary school children (grades 1 to 5), and the US sample consisted of 494 elementary school children (grades kindergarten through 4). We used the Children's Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ) to assess children's sleep patterns and sleep problems as reported by parents. Parents of the Chinese sample completed a Chinese version of the CSHQ.

Results. For children in both the US and Chinese samples, reported bedtime was delayed and sleep duration decreased with increasing age. Compared with the US children (grades 1–4), Chinese children went to bed approximately half an hour later (9:02 vs 8:27 pm) and woke up half an hour earlier (6:28 vs 6:55 am), resulting in an average sleep duration that was 1 hour less (9.25 vs 10.15 hours). Chinese children were rated significantly higher than the US children on almost all CSHQ scales, indicating more sleep problems in Chinese children. Common sleep problems observed for all children were difficulty falling asleep, having a fear of sleeping in the dark, sleep talking, restless sleep, teeth grinding during sleep, and daytime sleepiness. Shorter daily sleep duration was associated with difficulty falling asleep, struggling at bedtime, and trouble sleeping away for the US children, and with going to bed at different times and having a fear of sleeping alone for Chinese children. Short sleep duration was a main predictor of daytime sleepiness for Chinese children, whereas restless sleep and snoring predicted daytime sleepiness for the US children.

Conclusions. As reported by parents, children in China went to bed later and woke up earlier and their sleep duration was 1 hour shorter than the US children. Chinese children were reported to have more sleep problems than their US counterparts. Daytime sleepiness was determined by sleep duration only for those who slept insufficiently. Unique school schedules and sleep practices may contribute to the differences in the sleep patterns and sleep problems of children from the United States and China.

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