Summer is coming to an end. You can no longer let your kids stay up just a little bit later knowing that they can sleep in the next day. Take this opportunity to get everyone back on schedule. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggests that consistency of young children’s bedtime is associated with positive performance on a variety of intellectual tests.
Researchers looked at information about bedtimes and standardized test scores for more than 11,000 children who were part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study. The study followed children when they were 3, 5 and 7 years old, and included regular surveys and home visits. Researchers asked parents about family routines such as bedtimes and took into consideration variables including socioeconomic status, discipline strategies, reading to children and breakfast routines. Children also took standardized tests in math, reading and spatial abilities when they were 7 years old.
The study found that consistent bedtimes were tied to better performance across all subject areas. This was especially true for 7-year-old girls, regardless of socioeconomic background. They tended to do worse on all three intellect measurements if they had irregular bedtimes. Boys in this age group did not show the effect.
In both girls and boys, non-regular bedtimes at age 3 were linked with lower test scores, but not at age 5. Bedtimes that had never been consistent for girls at ages 3, 5, and 7 were associated with lower scores than regular bedtimes. For any two of these ages, boys also tended to do worse on the tests if they didn’t go to sleep at a routine time.
According to Amanda Sacker, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, the results “showed that it wasn’t going to bed late that was affecting child’s development, it was the irregular bedtimes that were linked to poorer developmental scores.”
There are a few possible explanations for the observations in the study. It’s possible that children with an irregular bedtime may not be getting good quality sleep. The body’s circadian rhythms can be disrupted when a person doesn’t have consistent sleep schedules.
According to study authors, as environmental stimuli influence changes in the brain, we need sleep to allow fresh learning for the day to come. Cognitive impairment and lack of concentration are two possible consequences of limited or disrupted sleep. Given the importance of childhood development, low-quality sleep during this critical period could have long-term health effects.
The study also supports other research indicating that adults benefit from having consistent bedtimes as well. So, as school approaches, determine a bedtime that works for your family. It’s not as important if it’s late or early, as long as it’s consistent. Work hard to maintain the bedtime, even on weekends. It’s easy to give it all up on Friday and Saturday nights, but that just makes the rest of the week more difficult. Start this week by putting everyone to bed 10-15 minutes earlier than you have been. Work up to the bedtime you desire and stick with it!