Do Kids Really Sleep Through Smoke Detector Alarms?

from the haven't-heard-that-before dept

In my experience, smoke detector alarms tend to be loud and incredibly annoying. I can’t imagine anyone ever sleeping through one going off (and I’ve had more than enough wake me up from deep slumber — too often in need of a battery replacement). However, according to some researchers, kids don’t seem all that likely to wake up from smoke alarms. So, they ran an experiment that found that kids were much more likely to wake up if the alarm was a parent’s voice urging them to get up, rather than the typical screeching/beeping/blaring noise of your typical smoke detector alarm. They even claim that, in the tests, they used a smoke detector that was much louder than those available on the market today — which are pretty damn loud. Yet, 10 out of 24 kids in the test (42%) apparently slept right through it. Only one child slept through the “parent alarm” version. While there may be some benefit to having a parent’s voice guide young children after an alarm goes off, it still seems hard to believe that so many children wouldn’t wake up with an alarm blaring in their ears in the middle of the night. Update: Ok. As folks in the comments indicate, it’s apparently quite common to sleep through smoke alarms. My own experiences have been quite different, but apparently plenty of kids will sleep through incredibly noisy alarms.

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Comments on “Do Kids Really Sleep Through Smoke Detector Alarms?”

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Lisa says:

smoke detectors and kids

As a former firefighter who ran similar experiments with children in the community, I can say firsthand that these results are dead on. I saw the same thing.

As a parent, I can also tell you that my three young children slept right through the detector when I tried the test on them. However, if I open a box of Froot Loops while hiding in my bedroom closet, they spring out of bed like they’re the ones on fire. 🙂

Anyway, yes, I’ve seen this to be true with several children. This isn’t new research either, I remember reading about a similar study a few years ago. Of course, I think it was run in conjunction with an alarm manufacturer of some sort because I remember seeing a “special smoke detector, just for kids!” I’m sorry I don’t have time to find the link at the moment but I will later if you want me to dig around for it.

kilroy says:

It might be cruel but

If you are not intelligent enough to wake up when the house is on fire and an alarm is going off, there might be a strong argument for the concept of it being a “culling of the herd”.

You cannot idiot-proof the entire world. Having said that, I have always kept a life-guard whistle hanging on the wall in my bedroom by the door in case there were ever a need to make some extra noise – for instance in a fire. I will make an effort to save the lives of the people I love but I am saving My Butt for sure … And if they want just 10 more minutes (snooze bar) … well I’ll wait for them outside.

Ensign Pike says:

When I was in elementary school, my neighbor’s house had a chimmney fire. I later found that they parked a firetruck on our lawn, about thirty feet from my bedroom window. I never woke up. These days, I use an alarm that not only blares, but flashes a desk light. I sometimes still sleep through that for twenty minutes or so.

Living in the city, sound sleeping is usually a benefit. On infrequent occasion, though, it could be a major liability.

Chris says:

It's true

I know that my alarm clock (the new one I got that is 20x louder than my old one, which was fairly loud) still fails to wake me up, but it drives my parrents, who sleep on the other side of the house, crazy. I don’t even know that I am awake or that the alarm is going off when I am awake. But I know that when my dad comes in and tells me to turn it off I wake up. I still don’t understand why that wakes me up when the alarm doesn’t.
Made me wonder if I would wake up if the fire alarm (which is in my brother room) would wake me or him up.

kewlx says:

Don't wake up?

if we stop saving people who can’t wake up from a loud noise, natural selection will sort stuff out and we won’t have this problem. On a side note, anything that’s “not normal” will wake me up. I can sleep through people talking, but if they reference me in some way, even if they don’t direcrtly say my name, i will wake up because i think they’re talking about/to me. I usually turn off my alarm before the first 1/2 second beep finishes – unless it’s monday (snooze FTW).

Rushn says:

Short memory...

While it is true that many people (and kids) can easily sleep through alarm clocks, fire alarms and nuclear explosions, that hardly makes the case for this particular kind of alarm.
It was not so long ago that I read a review on the alarm that parents can use with their prerecorded messages to wake kids up. I cannot remember where it was (something along the lines of PopSci or Consumer reports, a large publication) but their take on it was that during testing kids were just as likely to ignore parents’ recorded voices as the loud alarm. I would not be surprised if the company making the alarm was behind this study 🙂
Any on a lighter note, any parent with a teenage kid that their kids ignore their voices more than anything else.

Dick Sprungstrong says:

Add me to the list...

When I was a young man I slept through a fire alarm that was just outside my bedroom door. Didn’t know anything had happened until the next morning and smelled the burnt wood and saw the blackened ceiling in the hall.

I also slept through a huge tire fire that was a few blocks from my house. My mom said she came in and my room was orange from the flames outside, she woke me up, asked me if I wanted to go see the fire (20 or so firetrucks, hundred foot flames). I said no and went back to bed yet I remember nothing at all. It was the burnt rubber stench the next day that tipped me off.

All that and I don’t have any particular sleep problems.

Donald Duck says:

Re: Add me to the list...

Yo Dick

Some studies might show that drug usage during pregnancy causes serious problems to the fetus. I mean if I couldn’t hear 20 firetrucks out side my room then I’m learning me some sign language!

The hall way at one time was blackened and I couldn’t smell that. Can’t be just a hearing problem. That would clue me in that some one was ‘hitting the weed’ a little bit to much……when I was a fetus and when I got to jr high.

Next Tech Dirt posting

children who drink while playing their XB and don’t care if the fire alam comes on.

Donald Duck says:

Just use a palm pilot THAT WOULD WORK

I would assume that children needs more sleep usually real small children gets 12 plus hours of sleep and they go into a deeper sleeping pattern then older children and adults.

It’s called REM sleep, I would imagine that kids dream a lot because they are yound and learning and while they are in REM sleep their body is more inactive so that must mean that their ears and bodies find it hard to react towards even a fire alam.

I would like to see them make a really really loud Palm Pilot Bumble Bee alam as a fire alam because that would work! Especially when you can’t reach it and throw it.

RE. 2 lisa

Try feeding them more often 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Unstressed Children will even sleep at a rock conc

Ther may a a number of reason why kids sleep through
1. they are very tired as they play hard during the day.
2. They are not stressed – they trust their parents – so
loud noises are not a concern.

Adults need less sleep and we (if we are parents)
also tend to train outselves to listen to noises – it might
be the kids.

So I think that kids who are in stressed homes
(or children who are anxoius, for what ever reason)
– probable wake and others do not.


Rodney says:

I personally wake up to things that I expect to wake up for such as a phone ringing, alarm clock, or any other noise I expect to hear at some point. It takes me a really long time to wake up to someone telling me to wake up, shaking me, knocking on my door, etc. Been that way since I was a child. I even slept through a house explosion that was less than a quarter mile away from my home. I only knew of it when my parents told me the next morning.

Dustin says:

I still sleep through alarms

I am 23, and have slept through many fire alarms. I also do not respond to the alarm clock, and must place it across the room. Even with this procedure, I sometimes sleep through 30 minutes of alarm before I even here it.

One of the times in which I slept a fire alarm was even more disturbing. My family was staying in a hotel, and the alarm went off in the early morning hours. My parents woke my sister and I up and we were going through the hallway to exit the building. I apparently was sleep walking or something, however because I turned around and went back to the room. They didn’t notice until they were out of the building and found me in the room (sleeping!) after the fire department cleared the building (it was a small fire somewhere). Just be alert out there folks.

Chief Joe Carolan (user link) says:

Quick-Finders as a back up!

I’m the president of Quick-Finders LLC.

Here is my story

As a firefighter crawling in a smoke filled home it is very, very stressful looking for a victim. With Quick-Finders a patented Bedroom Identification System alerts the firefighter the house is equipped with the life saving device before they enter the home. It’s a 2 part system that assist in locating the bedrooms with a sweep of a firefighters flashlight. Part 1 the door identification decal placed on the entrance door to your home alerts the firefighter your home has Quick-Finders. Part 2 is a reflective device that will pick up a flashlights beam from all angles give firefighter a path to your bedrooms. Quick-Finders also helps firefighters stay orinated in a smoke filled home and gives them a second exit as every bedroom has a window on the oposite wall. Quick-Finders LLC is a proud sponsor of the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation and will donate $1 of the sale of Quick-Finders back to the foundation.
If any 501c organzation wish to sell them as fundraisers contact me at
100% Made in the USA. US PATENT 7,196,614

Kozmik says:

Ok, I am not a kid, therefore rather concerned when this morning my husband told me about the 20minutes of fire alarms ringing thru the building, and then the fire truck parked directly outside our open bedroom window.. (first floor)yes siren was going.. no I didn’t wake.. stir.. incorporate the sound into a dream.. absolutely nothing, never even flinched according to my husband who by now was thinking about the times he was on night shift.. and essentially I was responsible for the safety of our children thru the night
BTW.. I am a member of Mensa., Just for the IQ theory crowd. I also have sleep apnea, although was not using cpap. My reason for ending up here was searching for a solution to my worry. concern now that I may do this again and the possible result.
I would think that the 15 minutes of alarms should have atleast roused me enough to respond to the fire truck.. And I am curious about why physically this can happen.. what is different about my sleep then my husbands?

Sunwyn Ravenwood (profile) says:

fire alarms

If you really want people to wake up start with a low chirp and step it up, higher in pitch, and closer together. If you need to know what I mean scare a newborn chick. The sound is unendurable. It starts with “chirp, chirp” then it goes higher and faster: “chirp,chirp,Chirp,Chirp,CHIRP,CHIRP!!!”

I had to rescue a newborn chick that fell out of the chicken coop. It was 25 years ago and I can still remember that horrible sound. Anyone who can sleep through that is deaf or dead.

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