Making a traditional sleep environment feel far more like an adventure, bunk beds often seem like a big-kid retreat for many children. But a simple night's shuteye can quickly turn into a trip to the hospital with many children, teens, and young adults — nearly 36,000 a year, in fact — getting hurt from bunk beds, mostly due to falls from up top.
According to a new study, more than 570,000 kids were treated in emergency rooms throughout the United States from 1990 to 2005 for bunk-bed-related injuries, mostly to the head, face, and neck.
Tots 10 and under using bunk beds were the most likely to get hurt, with kids younger than 6 accounting for nearly half of all the injuries. Youngsters 3 and under endured the most head trauma (as much as 40% more than older kids). And very young children, who tend to fall headfirst off the bed when they're sleeping, are at increased risk of serious injuries like concussions and skull fractures.
But bunk bed injuries don't just happen to little ones — young adults ages 18 to 21 (like those in college or the military) were almost twice as likely as 14- to 17-year-olds to get hurt using a bunk bed. Of course, alcohol and bunk beds don't mix — alcohol consumption was involved in 360 cases in which teens and young adults (ages 14–21) had fallen from a bunk bed.
And getting hurt in a bunk bed can mean much more than just minor bumps and bruises — many of those injured had broken bones that required hospitalization.
What This Means to You
Although most (94%) of the kids, teens, and young adults in the study were hurt at home, bunk beds are often a sleeping staple at summer or sports league camps, boarding schools, college dorms, and military institutions.
So, the researchers say it's important to keep some safety tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in mind. Whether you're shopping around for the right bed or preparing to send them off to stay somewhere else, take these simple precautions to keep your kids — from tots to teens — from getting hurt:
- Never put a child under age 6 on the top bunk — no matter how much they beg and plead to sleep like big kids.
- Tell kids to never play on or jump off of bunk beds.
- Be sure to attach guardrails to both sides of the top bunk for kids of all ages.
- Check to make sure that bunk beds have only a narrow space (less than 31/2 inches) between the guardrails and the mattress.
- Ensure that the mattress is the right size for the bed and fits securely.
- Make sure that the bunk bed's ladder is sturdy and not damaged at all.
- Keep the floor next to the bed clear of any objects, clothes, or toys.
- Use a nightlight so that kids can see where they're going if they need to get up and down from the bed in the middle of the night.
- Don't put bunk beds near ceiling fans or light fixtures.
- Caution teens and college students to never sleep in the top bunk after they've been drinking alcohol.
If you buy a bunk bed, also be sure to check the maximum weight limit to make sure it will be able to safely hold your kids as they grow. And, as with any product you purchase, check the CPSC website to see if the bunk bed has been recalled.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2008
Source: "Bunk Bed–Related Injuries Among Children and Adolescents Treated in Emergency Departments in the United States, 1990–2005," Pediatrics, June 2008.