Did your parents ever send you to bed early as a punishment for acting up? Their instincts were definitely focused in the right direction, although it turns out that the key to helping kids with certain behavioral issues is for parents to set and enforce consistent early bedtimes. A recent study in the UK showed that irregular bedtimes for growing children disrupt natural circadian rhythms in the body, cause sleep deprivation, undermine brain maturation, and can blunt a child’s ability to regulate certain behaviors.
The study included data from more than 10,000 children ages three, five, and seven years. Parents and teachers provided additional information regarding behavioral patterns.
As children progressed through early childhood without a regular bedtime, their behavioral scores worsened in the following areas:
- conduct problems
- peer-related problems
- emotional difficulties
The study showed that the effects of irregular bedtimes are cumulative over a period of years. The effects build up incrementally, causing increasingly severe behavioral issues at home and in school.
This study also puts a fine point on something important: behavioral challenges are not always a call for medication. Healthy, consistent, comforting routines at home have a great deal of influence on childhood behavioral issues.
Professor Yvonne Kelly (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health) states that “not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning.”
On a positive note, the findings suggest that the effect is reversible. Children who had previously had haphazard bedtimes showed clear improvements in their behavior once parents established consistent bedtimes and positive bedtime routines.
Lap reading is a great way to create a positive bedtime experience with children. Developing a nightly habit of spending a few minutes together considering favorite stories will help children not only form loving bonds, learn vocabulary and reading skills, but can also help them develop a positive attitude about regularly going to bed at a healthy hour.