Smoke alarms using mother's voice wake children better than high-pitch tone alarms

October 25, 2018

When residential fires happen at night while people are sleeping, deaths are more likely to occur. Smoke alarms are important for preventing these deaths, yet many young children don't wake up to traditional high-pitch tone alarms. In a study published online today in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers in the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Sleep Disorders Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital examined characteristics of four different smoke alarms to determine which ones worked best to wake children. They tested three alarms that used the mother's voice in addition to a high-pitch tone smoke alarm commonly used in homes. The research included 176 children 5 to 12 years of age studied at a sleep research center in Columbus, Ohio.

The researchers found that a sleeping child was about 3 times more likely to be awakened by one of the three voice alarms than by the tone alarm. The alarms using the mother's voice awakened 86-91% of children and prompted 84-86% to "escape" from the bedroom, compared with 53% awakened and 51% escaped for the tone alarm. The study also examined the effect of the different alarms on the amount of time it took the children to get out of ("escape" from) the bedroom. In a real fire, seconds can make a difference. If a child wakes up but takes too long to leave a burning building, serious injuries or death could occur. The median time to escape for the high-pitch tone alarm was 282 seconds - nearly five minutes - while the median times to escape for the voice alarms ranged from 18 to 28 seconds. Because the human brain responds differently to the sound of our own name, even during sleep, the researchers wanted to test whether including the child's first name in the alarm message made a difference in alarm effectiveness. However, no significant differences were found between each pair of the voice alarms, regardless of whether the child's name was included in the message.

"Children are remarkably resistant to awakening by sound when asleep," said Mark Splaingard, MD, co-author of the study and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Children sleep longer and deeper than adults and require louder sounds to awaken than adults. For these reasons, children are less likely to awaken and escape a nighttime home fire. The fact that we were able to find a smoke alarm sound that reduces the amount of time it takes for many children 5 to 12 years of age to wake up and leave the bedroom could save lives."

"These new findings put us one step closer to finding a smoke alarm that will be effective for children and practical for parents," said Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "This study confirmed that a maternal voice alarm is better than a traditional high-pitch tone alarm for waking children and prompting their escape under conditions typical of homes. It also showed that the mother's voice was enough to be effective without using the child's first name. This means one alarm could work for multiple children sleeping near each other in a home."

The study focused on 5 to 12 year-olds because children younger than 5 years are regarded by the fire safety community as being too developmentally immature to reliably perform self-rescue in a home fire, and therefore must rely on adult rescue. Adolescents (older than 12 years) do not experience the same difficulty as younger children in awakening to a high-pitch tone smoke alarm.

Future research will include assessing the role of mother's voice versus a generic female or male voice and also comparing the voice alarm with a low-pitch tone alarm. An alarm that is optimized for waking children will also be tested among adults. If the alarm is effective among all age groups, this would increase its practicality and use. The research team is committed to reducing fire-related injury and deaths among children old enough to perform self-rescue. The researchers urge all families to continue to use traditional smoke alarms as recommended while research continues.
-end-
The Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital works globally to reduce injury-related pediatric death and disabilities. With innovative research at its core, CIRP works to continually improve the scientific understanding of the epidemiology, biomechanics, prevention, acute treatment and rehabilitation of injuries. CIRP serves as a pioneer by translating cutting edge injury research into education, policy, and advances in clinical care. For related injury prevention materials or to learn more about CIRP, visit http://www.injurycenter.org.

Nationwide Children's Hospital

Related Sleep Articles from Brightsurf:

Size and sleep: New research reveals why little things sleep longer
Using data from humans and other mammals, a team of scientists including researchers from the Santa Fe Institute has developed one of the first quantitative models that explains why sleep times across species and during development decrease as brains get bigger.

Wind turbine noise affects dream sleep and perceived sleep restoration
Wind turbine noise (WTN) influences people's perception of the restorative effects of sleep, and also has a small but significant effect on dream sleep, otherwise known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a study at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows.

To sleep deeply: The brainstem neurons that regulate non-REM sleep
University of Tsukuba researchers identified neurons that promote non-REM sleep in the brainstem in mice.

Chronic opioid therapy can disrupt sleep, increase risk of sleep disorders
Patients and medical providers should be aware that chronic opioid use can interfere with sleep by reducing sleep efficiency and increasing the risk of sleep-disordered breathing, according to a position statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

'Short sleep' gene prevents memory deficits associated with sleep deprivation
The UCSF scientists who identified the two known human genes that promote 'natural short sleep' -- nightly sleep that lasts just four to six hours but leaves people feeling well-rested -- have now discovered a third, and it's also the first gene that's ever been shown to prevent the memory deficits that normally accompany sleep deprivation.

Short sleep duration and sleep variability blunt weight loss
High sleep variability and short sleep duration are associated with difficulties in losing weight and body fat.

Nurses have an increased risk of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation
According to preliminary results of a new study, there is a high prevalence of insufficient sleep and symptoms of common sleep disorders among medical center nurses.

Common sleep myths compromise good sleep and health
People often say they can get by on five or fewer hours of sleep, that snoring is harmless, and that having a drink helps you to fall asleep.

Sleep tight! Researchers identify the beneficial role of sleep
Why do animals sleep? Why do humans 'waste' a third of their lives sleeping?

Does extra sleep on the weekends repay your sleep debt? No, researchers say
Insufficient sleep and untreated sleep disorders put people at increased risk for metabolic problems, including obesity and diabetes.

Read More: Sleep News and Sleep Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.