Parents, teachers and doctors all agree that lack of sleep makes children cranky, tearful and more prone to tantrums. Now researchers from the UK have found that children with irregular bedtimes are more likely to have behavioral difficulties.

The study, published in the journal Paediatrics, found that irregular bedtimes could disrupt natural body rhythms and cause sleep deprivation, undermining brain maturation and the ability to regulate certain behaviors.

Adopting a regular bedtime routine is probably the first thing an adult with sleep problems would be advised to do. And the same applies to children. Following a routine helps train behaviour and a nighttime routine helps your child learn to be sleepy.

Professor Yvonne Kelly from the study, observed children not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a feeling in the child similar to jet lag. And this may impact on the child’s healthy development and daily functioning.

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.

Analysing data from more than 10,000 children in the UK Millennium Cohort Study, the team collected bedtime data at 3, 5 and 7 years, as well as incorporating reports from the children’s mothers and teachers on behavioral problems.

Clear link between bedtime and behaviour

Although inconsistent bedtimes can adversely affect a child’s behavior, the study shows that the changes are reversible – once a regular routine is established, the child’s behavior settles down.

The study found a clear clinical and statistically significant link between bedtimes and behavior. Irregular bedtimes affected children’s behavior by disrupting circadian rhythms (body clock), leading to sleep deprivation that affects the developing brain.

As children progressed through early childhood without a regular bedtime, their behavioral scores – which included hyperactivity, conduct problems, problems with peers and emotional difficulties – worsened.

However, children who switched to a more regular bedtime had clear improvements in their behavior.

The study shows 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.

But the findings suggest the effects are reversible. For example, children who change from not having to having regular bedtimes show improvements in their behaviour.

Irregular bedtimes and fewer hours of sleep

Irregular bedtimes were most common at the age of 3, when around 1 in 5 children went to bed at varying times. However, by the age of 7, more than half the children went to bed regularly between 7.30 and 8.30 pm.

Children whose bedtimes were irregular or who went to bed after 9 pm came from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and this was factored into the study findings.

Most parents would agree that consistency is key to bringing up children, and the same rules seem to apply to bedtimes. Although no two children will be exactly alike in their sleep requirements, keeping bedtimes regular and with a consistent routine will show improvements in bad behaviour.

What can you do as a parent to help?

This study adds to the already clear evidence that growing children need 9 hours sleep at night with a regular bedtime. Helping your child go to bed at the same time every night is an important pathway for reducing the risk of behavioural issues.

On a positive note however, study findings underscore how a healthy sleep cycle promotes the emotional success of children. And the good news is that sleep behaviour is highly modifiable with the right support.

SleepShack an online diagnostic and treatment program managed by Australian Sleep Doctors, is designed to reset the biological clocks of your child if they have trouble with a regular sleep pattern as well as providing medically researched strategies to promote sleep. This sleep program will help you to help your child. And a good nights sleep for your child means they have a greater chance of behaving well the following day.

Study & findings sourced from “Medical News Today”
Ginni Seton, Manager SleepShack