New Study Shows that Thirdhand Smoke Exposure May Prevent Children from Getting Enough Sleep

New research from the University of Cincinnati shows that exposure to secondhand or thirdhand smoke may prevent children from getting the recommended 9 hours of sleep each night.

By Madeleine Moran

January 18, 2022

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, children ages 6-11 should sleep at least 9 hours each night. Dr. Ashley Merianos from the University of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital explains that: “Inadequate sleep is another public health problem that has negative effects on school-aged childrens’ healthy development and overall well-being.” Dr. Merianos and her colleagues examined the relationship between children’s sleep and tobacco smoke exposure.  

The researchers used data collected on 17,851 children aged 6-11 from across the United States as part of the 2018-2019 National Survey of Children’s Health. The research team analyzed the survey data to see if there was a relationship between inadequate sleep and tobacco smoke exposure.

They examined three categories of tobacco smoke exposure: “no tobacco smoke exposure” described children who lived with nonsmokers; “thirdhand smoke exposure” referred to children who lived with someone who smoked outside only but brought tobacco smoke residue back into the homes on their body and clothes; “secondhand and thirdhand smoke exposure” was used for children who lived with someone who smoked inside the home.

The results showed that children who lived with someone who smoked inside the home (i.e., those who were exposed to both second- and thirdhand smoke) did not get enough sleep. While researchers had anticipated this result, they were surprised to find that children who lived with someone who smoked only outside the home (i.e., were exposed to thirdhand smoke but not secondhand smoke) also did not get enough sleep. The relationship between second- and thirdhand smoke exposure and sleep could not be explained by characteristics of the family, including size, income, race, and ethnicity or by characteristics of the child, including weight, screen time, physical activity, and emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems. These results suggest that even when parents who smoke try to protect their children from exposure by smoking only outside, children’s healthy sleep patterns may still be disrupted. With mounting evidence that thirdhand smoke exposure directly affects children’s health, it is important that we do everything we can to prevent exposure. Dr. Merianos hopes that these findings will encourage parents to think critically about their tobacco use: “There is no safe level of tobacco smoke exposure and it is linked to many negative health consequences.” She emphasizes how important it is to share information about tobacco exposure and help people understand “that even if they are smoking outside, children can still be exposed to thirdhand smoke and not get enough sleep.” Ultimately, the best way to ensure that a child gets enough sleep is to establish a routine that encourages healthy sleep habits and promote the cessation of smoking for all household members to decrease second- and thirdhand smoke exposure.

Click here to read the research study.

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