Bedtime: How going to sleep at irregular times is really messing with your kids' health and development 3 years ago

Bedtime: How going to sleep at irregular times is really messing with your kids' health and development

I am certain I am not the only parent struggling to keep normal bedtime routines during this lockdown.

Not that they have been staying up to midnight or anything, but their normal bedtime of 8 PM has definitively come and gone more than a few nights in a blur of play and movie nights and just sheer "ah, sure we don't have to be up at the crack of dawn" recklessness that this school closure and lockdown situation has brought.

However, sleep is important, let's all agree on that – especially to children.

In fact, according to many studies and much research, ensuring that children get enough sleep is one of the number one ways to get them off to the best possible start in life. As for how much sleep children need, this obviously varies depending on their ages and also the individual child and their needs, but as a rule of thumb, the US-based National Sleep Foundation recommends that toddlers should get roughly 11 to 14 hours of sleep every day. For children aged three to five years, the recommendation is ten to 13 hours, or nine to 11 hours for children once they’re at primary school.


However, while this is not really news to most of us, now some more recent research has pointed to that it is not just the amount of sleep a child gets which matters. According to a large study carried out by UCL’s International Centre for Lifecourse Studies, which has followed the lives of some 20,000 children since the turn of the century, it looks like just as important as sleep is having a regular bedtime throughout the first decade of a child's life.

The importance of a regular bedtime

To conduct the study, the researchers looked at the relationship between regular and irregular bedtimes, and how the children got on in a range of cognitive tests. Parents were asked whether their children went to bed at a regular time on weekdays. If the answer was “always” or “usually,” they were put in the regular bedtime group, while those who answered “sometimes” or “never” were put in the irregular bedtime group.

The results? Enough to make you way stricter about bedtimes, that for sure.

It turns out, children with irregular bedtimes had lower scores on maths, reading and spatial awareness tests. In fact, the time that children went to bed had little or no effect on their basic number skills, or their ability to work with shapes. But having no set bedtime was linked to lower scores, especially for three-year-olds.

The ‘jet lag’ effect

To explain the findings, the researchers say the heart of this phenomenon is the circadian rhythm – the internal body clock, which tells you when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

What this means, is that when children go to bed at 8pm one night, 10pm the next and 7pm another, their bodily systems get shuffled through different time zones – as if you are suffering from jet-lag – and their circadian rhythms and hormonal systems take a hit as a result.

How strict are YOU on bedtimes, mamas? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @Herfamilydotie