Are children naughtier because of irregular bedtimes? A recent study
suggests a link between kids’ behavioral problems and irregular bedtimes. Published in October in an American Academy of Pediatrics’
(AAP) journal, the study of more than 10,000 children in the United Kingdom found that “children with non-regular bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties.
There was an incremental worsening in behavioral scores as exposure through early childhood to not having regular bedtimes increased.”Irregular bedtimes can disrupt a child’s circadian rhythms, the internal biological clocks that help determine sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation can harm a child’s developing brain, and drowsiness can affect a child’s school performance.
“The study authors conclude that because the study shows the effects of inconsistent bedtimes are reversible,health care providers could check for sleep disruptions as part of routine health care visits,” according to a news release from the AAP
A key to getting a good night's sleep is preparation, according to Daniel Lewin, PhD
, director of pediatric behavioral sleep medicine
at Children’s National Health System. A routine helps children
, and frankly anyone, fall asleep and stay asleep, he said. Infants, up to 3 months old, spend equal hours of wake and sleep; around 6 months old, babies sleep through the night with two to three daytime naps. Toddlers need about 11-12 hours of sleep; school-age children need about 10-11 hours; and teens need between nine -10 hours.Bedtime Routine
A nighttime ritual signals to your child to wind down, according to Lewin. Lewin said setting manageable routines isn’t difficult and it helps to start early – hours ahead of bedtime and as well as young as possible.
At least an hour or two before bedtime, begin to turn off any electronics such as televisions, computers, smart phones, iPads, etc., because light from the devices and stimulation from watching them keep a child’s brain on “active” mode, according to Lewin.
“The bedroom should really be a place that’s quiet and comfortable where there’s not a whole lot that’s over-stimulating,” Lewin said. “Some people recommend music or white noise, but that depends on a lot of factors.”
“Putting young children to bed too late can result in overtiredness, which in that age group, looks more like having difficulty settling down,” Lewin said.
Maintaining a sleep routine is important for all age groups even as children grow up and control their pre-bedtime routine, according to Lewin.
“Change is a big thing for adolescents. Biologically they tend to go to bed later and get up later ... If you allow them variable schedules, they may end up sleeping on their own schedule and if it conflicts with school schedules, they can become sluggish. They’ll be like someone who is jet lagged.”
For school-age kids, typically they’re ready to go to bed between 7-9 p.m., Lewin said.
“If you have a lot of variability in their bedtime you’re not maximizing their sleep drive,” he said, adding that if you try to put them to bed too early “they can lie awake in bed.”
“Putting someone to bed when they’re not prepared to fall asleep is problematic.”