Bunk bed safety

Although bunk beds can open up the possibilities of what you can do with your space, there are about 36,000 bunk-bed related injuries among children every year in the United States–half of them involving children younger than 6 years old. Most bunk bed-related injuries occur from falls while sleeping or playing. Parents can help prevent these injuries by talking to their children about how to use bunk beds safely and taking the proper precautions in their child’s room.

Talk to your children about the ladder and top bunk:

  • Teach children how to safely climb the ladder. Remind them to climb slowly, carefully, and one step at a time when moving between bunks.
  • The ladder is only for going up and down. Even though bunk bed ladders look like something found on the playground, they should not be played on.
  • Keep the ladder clear. Do not allow children to attach belts, scarves, or ropes to the bunk bed. This can lead to strangulation.
  • No jumping on the bed! Jumping and roughhousing on either bunk can weaken the structure and lead to a collapse.

When bringing a bunk bed into the home, consider these tips:

  • Place bunk beds in a corner so the beds have walls on two sides. This keeps the number of sides a child could fall from to a minimum.
  • Check that the mattress foundation is strong and that the right mattress size is used.
  • Use guardrails on both sides of the top bunk. The gaps in the guardrails should be 3.5 inches or smaller to prevent strangulation. Guardrails need to extend at least 5 inches above the mattress top, which includes any added mattress pad(s), to prevent kids from rolling off.
  • Create a safe top bunk. Set up your top bunk away from any hanging lighting fixtures and ceiling fans. Install a nightlight close to the ladder for any late-night trips to the bathroom. Do not use the bunk bed or ladder if any parts are damaged or broken.
  • Save the top bunk for older kids. Young children do not have the coordination to climb up and down the ladder and are often small enough to roll underneath the guardrail. If they are younger than 6 years old, only allow them to sleep in the bottom bunk.
  • Be wary of do-it-yourself bunk bed kits. The designs may not meet current safety guidelines. 
  • Check recalls.gov and search for the products you’re considering bringing into your home to see if they have been recalled. While you are there, sign up to receive alerts about future recalls.

Keep these tips in mind at your home and when you travel and stay at vacation rentals. If your child will be sleeping on a bunk bed at school or camp, be aware that these bunk beds are not required to meet federal safety standards. If no guardrail is present or it is not at least 5 inches above the top of the mattress, you may be able to request the appropriate size guardrails from the school/camp.

The Center for Injury Research and Policy has more information on bunk bed safety
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Laura Dattner
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. With both a health communications and public health background, she works to translate pediatric injury research into meaningful, accurate messages which motivate the public to make positive behavior changes.

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