Ivory Towers: Lullaby sung by Scud missiles

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'CHILDREN'S sleep under the threat of attack by ballistic missiles', a paper by P Lavie, Y Amit, R Epstein and O Tzischinsky in the Journal of Sleep Research No 2, 1993, is one of the more unusual and positive spin-offs from the Gulf war.

At the time of the Scud missile attacks on Israel, the researchers were conducting a survey into the sleeping habits of toddlers in Haifa. The missiles enabled them to enlarge the studies and make some surprising discoveries.

The first study, based on questionnaires administered five months before the war and again ten days after it had ended, 'did not reveal any significant differences that could not be accounted for by developmental processes'. Not only were there no noticeable changes in their sleeping patterns, but the infants (average age 20 months pre-war and 26 months post-war) actually slept longer, woke up less frequently during the night, and disturbed their parents later in the mornings after the war than they had done before it.

The second study was conducted by monitoring the children during the missile attacks, which occurred almost exclusively during the night. The data showed, not surprisingly, that they tended to awaken (or be woken up) when the air-raid siren sounded, but after the all-clear 'sleep was resumed without any noticeable difficulties'. Their average total sleep duration was actually higher (552 compared to 525 minutes) during the war than in peace time.

Interestingly, another survey reported that while 37 per cent of Israelis reported sleep disturbances during the war, such reports were not confirmed by objective studies where sleep was monitored.

'We conclude', the researchers report, 'that environmental insomnia under such extraordinary circumstances . . . mainly consisted of 'fear of sleep' rather than actual disturbances in the sleep process itself.'

They report that 'this is the first time that children's sleep behaviour has ever been objectively investigated under war conditions'. We are sure they share our hope that they will be denied the opportunity for a replication study.