MONDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- A regular bedtime might
guarantee more than a good night's sleep for both kids and their
parents -- it turns out that a regular bedtime can make for a
better-behaved child, new research suggests.
When 7-year-olds had irregular bedtimes, they were more likely
to have behavior problems than their peers with a consistent time
for their nightly shut-eye. And, the study also found that the
longer a child had been able to go to bed at different times each
night, the worse his or her behavior problems were.
"Irregular bedtimes were linked to behavioral difficulties, and these effects appeared to accumulate through early childhood," said the study's lead author, Yvonne Kelly, a professor of lifecourse epidemiology at University College London.
"We also found that the effects appeared to be reversible -- children who changed from not having, to having, regular bedtimes showed improvements in behaviors, and vice versa," she added.
Kelly and her colleagues reviewed data on more than 10,000
7-year-olds who were enrolled in the U.K. Millennium Cohort Study.
Details on the children's bedtimes were collected when they were 3,
5 and 7 years old.
At the same time that sleep findings were collected, researchers
asked teachers and mothers to rate the children's behaviors. The
behavior survey included 25 questions.
Kids with irregular bedtimes had more behavioral problems than
did children with regular bedtimes, according to both their
teachers and their mothers. The children's mothers rated the
children with irregular bedtimes as having slightly more behavior
problems than did the teachers.
The longer a child had an irregular bedtime, the greater the
behavioral difficulties. On average, a child who had an irregular
bedtime at one time-point in the study increased his or her score
on the behavioral difficulties scale by about a half-point. If that
child had an irregular bedtime at two time-points during the study,
the score increased by about 1 point. If the child had an irregular
bedtime at all three time-points during the study, the score
increased by just over 2 points.
"A half-point corresponds to a 'small' effect. Irregular bedtimes at two ages, and all three ages, corresponded to a 1- and 2-point difference in behavior scores. These effect sizes would have 'moderate' clinical significance," said Kelly when asked if these score differences would make a noticeable difference in a child's behavior.
The good news from the study is that if you switch your child to
a regular bedtime from an irregular bedtime schedule, your child's
behavior will likely improve. The reverse is also true. If a child
with a regular bedtime switches to an irregular one, behavior will
likely worsen, the researchers noted.
Kelly said irregular bedtimes could contribute to behavior
problems in several ways. "First, switching bedtimes from night to
night interferes with circadian rhythms [the body clock] and
induces a state akin to jet lag. Second, disrupted sleep interferes
with processes to do with brain maturation," she explained.
Dr. Ruby Roy, a pediatrician at La Rabida Children's Hospital in
Chicago, agreed that several reasons may contribute to a connection
between irregular bedtimes and behavior problems.
"When kids don't have structure and predictability, they have anxiety," Roy said. "Kids naturally want to push boundaries, and when they don't have boundaries, it causes anxiety and acting out. A lack of sleep can also cause behavior problems, and some of these kids may only be going to sleep when they're passing out from exhaustion, which means they won't get enough sleep," she explained.
"Kids probably sleep better with regular bedtimes and when they have established bedtime routines," Roy added.
Kelly concluded: "Getting regular routines around bedtimes
appears to be important for children's behavioral development. But,
there are lots of other influential factors, too. So we shouldn't
get too hung up about children having the same bedtime every single
The study was published online Oct. 14 and in the November print
issue of the journal
Here's some advice on bedtime routines from the
American Academy of Pediatrics.
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