It happens almost every night like clockwork. My husband and I finally get the kids off to bed and an hour or two later, we hear a thud. We’ve grown accustomed to this noise, which signifies that our daughter fell out of bed and face-planted on the floor. After chatting with our pediatrician, we learned that falling out of bed isn’t uncommon for toddlers and kids, and experts say it is typically no cause for concern (though we won’t be purchasing bunk beds any time soon). Here’s why they fall.
Spatial awareness development
Nationally renowned pediatrician and child development specialist Dr. Harvey Karp says it all comes down to spatial awareness. Through practice, and trial and error, in their awake time, kiddos slowly learn how their little bodies move through the world.
“Every slide they go down, every tunnel they crawl through, each tight corner they sneak past helps to teach your child, quite literally, how they fit in the world around them,” says Karp. “Eventually, all that body knowledge becomes intuitive and includes knowing where they are while sleeping.”
This body knowledge is called proprioception, and many experts have dubbed it our “sixth sense.” Proprioception helps our bodies know where they are in relation to the world and in relation to each other.
As we get older, our sense of self-movement and body position are fully mature, Karp says.
“That’s why grown-ups aren’t really the falling out of bed types,” Karp says. “Our body has already mapped out how much space we take up in our bed and how much wiggle room we need for tossing and turning. “
Different stages of sleep
Dr. Arthur Lavin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, says the five-stage sleep cycle may be a factor in why kids fall out of bed.
He notes that while a body can roll over in any stage of sleep, stages 3 and 4 — also considered deep sleep — can trigger this behavior more often.
“In stage 1, you can be easily awoken. In REM sleep, the body cuts off the connection between your brain and spinal cord,” Lavin says. “But in stage 3 and 4, you are really knocked out and don’t have much control of what you are doing.”
Lavin notes that the sleep cycle sets at 4 months and doesn’t change throughout one’s life. Meaning, anyone in the deep sleep stage can fall out of bed. However, some kids are less aware of a bed’s edge in a deep sleep, while other children may roll around more than others.
And because there’s no memory of deep sleep, kids will not realize in the morning that they have fallen out of bed the previous night. This is what Lavin refers to as a “deep sleep phenomenon.”
Safety tips for a child who moves often
- Choose the right time for your child to transition to a bed (usually between 18 months and 2 years old. When a child can climb out of the crib out on their own, it’s probably time.
- Consider putting the mattress directly on the floor instead of on a bed frame and box spring.
- Arrange a bed so that it is against at least one wall.
- Add protective gear like rails or bumpers to act as a barrier to a child rolling off the bed.
- Place cushions on the floor right beside the bed on both sides.
- Check the stability of the bed every few months and tighten the screws.
Experts all agree that while falling out of bed is quite common, if your child of any age falls out of bed and gets injured, is vomiting, super drowsy, or won’t wake, you should seek medical care immediately.
Follow Metro Parent on Instagram.