Young children who have consistent, early bedtimes may perform better academically than peers who get less routine rest, according to new research presented this week at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in San Antonio. The analysis, conducted by investigators at the independent, non-profit research institute SRI International, examined sleep habits and learning capabilities of some 8,000 4-year-olds. They found that, compared with kids whose parents didn’t enforce consistent bedtimes, children who had a routine bedtime tended to have more developed language and math skills, and perform higher on developmental measures.
While a regular bedtime was most strongly linked to improved development, researchers noted that overall quantity of sleep also factored into children’s performance. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 11 hours of nightly sleep for pre-school aged children, and SRI researchers noted that when kids got less than the recommended amount of sleep, it reflected in their math and literacy skills, as well as their phonological awareness, or ability to identify sound structures in speech.
Researchers gathered information about sleep habits from telephone interviews with parents when children were 9-months and 4-years-old, and development was assessed using an abridged version of age-appropriate standardized tests.
The findings add to previous research suggesting that consistent — and early — bedtimes are critical for overall quality of young children’s sleep. A 2009 study found that children who did not go to bed until after 9pm struggled to fall asleep and slept for a shorter duration than those who went to bed earlier. This study is the largest yet to analyze sleep quality and the impact of bedtimes on young children’s development.
In a statement about the findings, lead researcher Erika Gaylor said that parents and doctors should work together to establish nighttime routines that promote sound sleep:
“Getting parents to set bedtime routines can be an important way to make a significant impact on children’s emergent literacy and language skills… Pediatricians can easily promote regular bedtimes with parents and children, behaviors which in turn lead to healthy sleep.”