There’s a Science Behind Set Bedtimes

If you’ve glanced at headlines or spent any amount of time on social media in the last month or so, you likely saw flashy headlines proclaiming that children lacking a set bedtime suffer physical effects similar to jet lag. The adolescent sleep study’s findings are valid, but it’s actually old news (it’s from a 2013 study). Alarmism is fashionable today with the 24-7 news cycle, so I wanted to address the study in today’s blog…in much more gentler terms.

set bedtime

The study findings

So, the 2013 sleep study in question, published in Pediatrics, is entitled, “Changes in Bedtime Schedules and Behavioral Difficulties in 7-Year-Old Children.” In reality, the study has nothing to do with jet lag, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The UK study included over 10,000 children, with data collected when they were ages 3, 5, and 7 years. The results were obtained from both parent and teacher questionnaires at each of the three age “check-ins.” What the study found was that those children who lacked a regular, predictable bedtime exhibited more behavioral issues than those children with routine, regular bedtimes.

The interesting part of this sleep study, aside from the behavioral findings, is that the behavior was affected even if the children slept for the same number of hours each night. A fluctuating or irregular bedtime, in this case, is directly related to behavioral issues.

What does jet lag have to do with it?

The behavioral issues researchers found included scoring higher in areas including “unhappiness, being inconsiderate and fighting.” Motherly reports that:

According to the study’s lead researcher, Yvonne Kelly, putting kids to bed at 8 o’clock one night and 10 o’clock the next results in a kind of “social jet lag,” even if they’re getting the same hours of sleep. “Without ever getting on a plane, a child’s bodily systems get shuffled through different time zones, and their circadian rhythms and hormonal systems take a hit as a result.”

Additional findings

A follow-up study, conducted in 2017, added academic shortcomings to the list of effects of an inconsistent bedtime. The Conversation reports that the follow-up study found that “Children with irregular bedtimes had lower scores on maths, reading and spatial awareness tests.”

I don’t know if it’s possible to find a stronger argument for a set bedtime than scientific studies pointing out an increased feeling of unhappiness, fighting, and lower academic scores among kids with irregular bedtimes!

What it means for you

As a parent, you know that your child’s early years are full of development at incredible rates. Their brains and bodies are working overtime, growing and gathering information about the world around them. What shouldn’t be underestimated is the role that healthy, consistent sleep plays in early childhood development — it’s crucial! According to the National Sleep Foundation, “sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.”

Take a look at your little one’s sleep routine and see if it can use some tweaking. Are you consistent with bedtime, or does bedtime vary in your household? One of the easiest changes you can make is to determine a bedtime and stick to it — your little one will thank you later (and you may have fewer behavior issues to combat)!
If you’re having trouble determining the right bedtime for your family’s routine, call me. I can work with you and your family’s schedule to establish a routine that’s right for you. If you think your family’s sleep could use an overhaul, contact me for a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation.

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