Getting children to bed on time can be a chore, but it could pay off with fewer behavioral problems later on.
Researchers reporting in the journal Pediatrics studied more than 10,000 kids when they were three, five and seven years old and compared reports of behavior issues to their bedtimes. Kids with irregular sleep were more likely to have lower scores on tests that measured their ability to problem solve, and higher rates of hyperactivity, emotional difficulties, and problems dealing with peers. One in every five of the kids went to bed at inconsistent times when they were three years old.
(MORE: The Secret to Smarter Kids: Naps)
Such irregular bedtimes, the scientists say, are similar to the effects of jet lag for the children. Going to bed at different times every night can disrupt the youngsters’ circadian rhythms, which establish sleep-wake patterns, and can result in sleep deprivation. And just as adults who lose sleep suffer from its effects, so do young children. “We know that early child development has profound influences on health and well being 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,” said Yvonne Kelly, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor in the department of Epidemiology & Public Health at University College London in a statement.
While previous work documented the increasing amount of disrupted sleep among older kids, who are distracted by computers, social media and video games well into the night, the current study documented that even at an early age, inconsistent sleep times can harm children’s development. The researchers found that the effects of poor sleep built incrementally as kids aged.
Those effects were reversible, however. The children who picked up regular bed times showed improvements in their behavior scores.