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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 2:10pm

    Mike, you got kids? If you find it hard to believe that alarms don't wake them up, I would think not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Lisa, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 2:22pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Steve, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 2:58pm

    I can vouch for the results in the experiment

    My eight year old son slept through a smoke alarm in his bedroom - an incredibly loud one. It woke me in my room.

    When I ran it to find his bedding smoldering, he woke up when I called his name.

    His night light cuaght his bedding on fire and he was sleeping through hell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:00pm

    when i was in college i slept through the dorm fire alarm late one night, and that thing was industrially loud. of course, that was years before i learned to live on five hours of sleep a night.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Jay, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:00pm

    I beleive it - I slept through an ambulance right outside my bedroom window a week ago Saturday. My grandfather was having trouble breathing then and my family called 911. I never woke up. Later in the day, someone told me and asked if I had heard a thing - nope, was out cold the whole time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    kilroy, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:02pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Mousky, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:03pm

    Kids Sleep Through Everything

    You don't have kids, do you? We had two separate accidents outside our house. Besides teh bang and crash from the accidents, there was the usual ambulance, fire and police sirens. My kid, whose room faces the street, was dead to the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:05pm

    I don't think sleeping soundly has anything to do with intelligence, kilroy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    xeh, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:05pm

    I've slept though fires/fire alarms as a kid.. apparently the fire crew came and all.. didn't know till the morning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Deep Six, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:07pm

    Keeping the population down...

    Sure... The goverment secretly innocculates kids at birth to ignore loud noises in the hopes of cutting the growth of the US. Same reasoning behind Yellow 5 dye killing your sperm count: lowering population growth.

    I should know, I helped impliment the procedures.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:12pm

    Re: It might be cruel but

    kilroy thinks deaf people should burn to death

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:18pm

    I go through Fire alarms in my dorm every other night ... people tell me the next day that they didn't see me outside, and if i was sleeping through it or just out of town

    so turns out that as far as i am concerned fire alarms are pretty useless, aside being annoying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    MiniDevil, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:26pm

    That Sucks

    When a hotel fire alarm went off about 3 hours into a sound sleep, I was up, dressed, out, and headed down the fire escape within 20-30 seconds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Swati, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:30pm

    I've slept through fire alarms as well.

    Next day, in the elevator people are talking about the fire alarm going off at 4 AM. And I am going "huh? fire alarm went off?"

    Ever since then, they have a person on every floor who checks every room to make sure its empty when a fire alarm goes off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:32pm

    when i was a kid, i slept through a drunk driver parking his truck in our house. right through the window in the adjacent room

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Ensign Pike, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:52pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Dylan Bennett, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:55pm

    Just a couple weeks ago Woot! was selling smoke alarms that could record your voice and play it back when the alarm goes off, just so that parents could record wake-up calls and instructions to their kids. Having two kids myself, the data found seems spot-on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Chris, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Stephen, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:58pm


    I seem to be able to sleep through anything, except the sound of my cat meowing. Go figure.

    I wish my girlfriend had that problem. Then she wouldn't be kept awake by my snoring! :-D

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Chris, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 3:59pm


    lots of people seem to be saying that when an ambulence or a firetruck parked in front of their home they didn't hear it. Well most of the time, emergency vehicles do not have their sirens on when they are on the street (I mean residental street) that they are going to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Chris, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:00pm

    Re: ZzzzZZzzz....

    roflol, yeah, my brothers snoring seems to wake me up. I wonder if some alarm clock company will make an alarm clock that will wake you up with snores....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Your Mom, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:01pm

    I agree with what's been said. As a teenager, I've slept through many an alarm clock, and once when my parents decided to prank us on april fools day by setting off the fire alarms I slept through it. Generally speaking, though, their yelling wakes me up each morning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Heather8, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:06pm


    I saw those on woot! but thought to myself 'What a waste. ' I wish I had read this first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Thejj924, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:10pm

    i dont neccessarly agree with what has been said, because i couldnt wake up for either my dad had to carry me out of the house. Iam a teenager now, when i was about 8 there was a gas leak and the fire alarm went off, so my dad got up and everyone else but my they firetrucks came and i slept through the entire thing.

    - JJ

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    dorpus, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:12pm

    Conditional Probability

    You remember the times you woke up when you heard a fire alarm. But you do not remember all the times you slept through a fire alarm and never noticed.

    How many things are happening all around us, and we never noticed?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    MD, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:14pm

    Smoke alarms

    My children sleep right through them...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    kewlx, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:21pm

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    dorpus, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 4:28pm

    Re: Don't wake up?

    So according to you, do deaf children deserve to be killed? How about your grandmother?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    thejj924, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 5:53pm

    not really that deaf children will die iam sure they make brail smoke alarms bump 2 bumps 3bumps in a square 2bumps lol but you know there parents are more likely to know better then to rely on a fire alarm if there child are deaf they should know to get them first, its more of an enstinct over anything else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Rushn, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 5:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Arochone, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 6:27pm


    You know those alarm clocks you can get at wal-mart that are advertised as 'super-loud'? The kind with the 'loud/soft' switch? The ones that use 2 9V batteries?
    Yea. I have one of those. And an alarm on my computer. And a small travel alarm clock. That's what it takes to wake me up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Dick Sprungstrong, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 6:30pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Al, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 7:46pm

    I was at a fire station an hour ago....

    ...with my son's Boy Scout troop and they went into all sorts of detail on a number of subjects. This personalized voice smoke detector came up. It's the first I've heard of it and the fireman said that this sleeping through alarms issue is very common.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Kelly Martin, Oct 2nd, 2006 @ 8:32pm

    Sleep through anything

    When I was eight, I slept through a nearby dry cleaner exploding. The building was completely flattened and, reportedly, the house shook rather alarmingly, or so my parents tell me. I, however, was totally oblivious. Even now I do not wake up easily.

    So I completely believe this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. identicon
    Sohrab, Oct 3rd, 2006 @ 12:11am

    what? the hell are you people doing before sleeping? How on gods green earth can you sleep through that crap? its so loud and annoying

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Donald Duck, Oct 3rd, 2006 @ 2:28am

    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 :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Donald Duck, Oct 3rd, 2006 @ 2:42am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Aaaaaaaaahmmm, Oct 3rd, 2006 @ 12:23pm


    I use to live DIRECTLY across the street from a tornado alarm in missouri. They'd set it off the first monday of every month for testing. I'd sleep through it every time, only once did i wake up because my dogs started spazzing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 3rd, 2006 @ 12:30pm

    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.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. identicon
    adam, Dec 1st, 2006 @ 10:01am

    Re: It might be cruel but

    u r a moron

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41. identicon
    Rodney, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 8:55am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42. identicon
    Dustin, Mar 18th, 2007 @ 10:46pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43. identicon
    Chief Joe Carolan, May 21st, 2008 @ 1:34pm

    Quick-Finders as a back up!

    I'm the president of Quick-Finders LLC.

    Here is my story

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    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2008 @ 12:33pm

    Re: It might be cruel but

    YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45. identicon
    Kozmik, Jul 1st, 2008 @ 6:51am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 6:53am

    Re: It might be cruel but

    You are not only cruel, but also crazy and amazingly self-centered. Shame on you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 7:00am

    Re: Don't wake up?

    WOW, You're so superior. All hail kewix.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48. identicon
    Sunwyn Ravenwood, Aug 7th, 2011 @ 1:46am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49. identicon
    Jack, Mar 27th, 2012 @ 4:35am

    the alarm did not wake me up

    I'm a 17 year old male, usually a very light sleeper. My parents informed me that at 5am, the smoke detectors were sounding. As you could imagine, I was shocked that the sound was not enough to wake me up.

    There was no fire, so we are also wondering why the alarms began to sound.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50. icon
    Peter (profile), Jul 29th, 2013 @ 1:06am

    fire alarms disn't wake my kids

    I have two children and they were never woken by the smoke alarms...ever. My wife would burn the toast in the morning on a regular basis as we both rushed around getting ready for work. It was a real learning curve for us because we would never leave them sleeping in bed when we left the house.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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