Kids Benefit From Regular Bedtime
October 14, 2013

Consistent Bedtimes Equal Happy Children

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Any new parent has likely heard the advice of seasoned pros sung like a mantra: Keep a schedule. Now a new study from the University College London (UCL) puts some data behind this conventional wisdom, noting that those children who have regular bedtimes are less likely to demonstrate behavioral problems at school.

The findings in this study aren’t entirely new, however. Previous research has revealed that regular bedtimes and plenty of rest can ensure happy and healthy children with fewer tantrums and health issues. The UCL study, led by Professor Yvonne Kelly, is published in the recent edition of the journal Pediatrics.

“Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning,” said Kelly in a statement. She said not having fixed bedtimes can disrupt the natural circadian rhythms of anyone, but that it is particularly disruptive for children. This leads to irregular behaviors and could even undermine healthy cognitive development.

“We know that early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing across the life course. It follows that disruptions to sleep, especially if they occur at key times in development, could have important lifelong impacts on health.”

Kelly and her team analyzed data gathered from a long-term study carried out for more than ten years. All told, the study gathered data from more than 10,000 British children born between 2000 and 2002. As a part of this broad study, parents were asked about their children’s sleep patterns and behavioral habits. Those children who had been diagnosed with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) disorder were not included in this study.

By the time these kids were three years old, only 20 percent of them were on a strict bedtime schedule. According to their parents, these kids rarely, if ever, went to bed at a consistent time each night. For diverse reasons, not all of which were clear, it became easier for parents to enforce a bedtime as their children grew older. By the time the kids were five, only nine percent were reported as having an irregular bedtime. This number dropped to eight percent when the kids turned six.

Parents were also asked questions about their child’s behavior at school and assessed this behavior on a 0 to 40 scale, with 40 representing the most behavioral issues. On average, seven-year-old children who did not have a regular bedtime scored 8.5 on average. While the number may seem low, children of the same age who had consistent bedtimes before 9 PM scored 6.3 to 6.9 on the same assessment scale. Teachers were asked to verify these behavioral scores and generally agreed with the parents; those children who had regular bedtimes before 9 PM were less likely to get in trouble at school or be unhappy.

“What we’ve shown is that these effects build up incrementally over childhood, so that children who always had irregular bedtimes were worse off than those children who did have a regular bedtime at one or two of the ages when they were surveyed,” said Kelly. “But our findings suggest the effects are reversible. For example, children who change from not having to having regular bedtimes show improvements in their behavior.”

A 2012 study also published in Pediatrics arrived at the same results. According to Reut Gruber with the Attention Behavior and Sleep Lab at the Douglas Research Center in Quebec, Canada, kids who lost as little as 54 minutes of sleep were more likely to act out in class the next day.