THE QUESTION Might inconsistent bedtimes affect children’s behavior?
THIS STUDY analyzed data on 10,230 children, 7 years old, including information since age 3 on when they went to bed and any behavioral problems. Researchers screened out children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger syndrome and autism. About 20 percent of the children did not have a regular bedtime at age 3, 9 percent did not at age 5 and 8 percent did not at age 7. Overall, children who went to bed at a consistent time had fewer behavior problems than those whose bedtimes varied. Among children who did not adhere to a regular bedtime schedule at a very young age, behavior worsened if they continued going to bed on an erratic schedule as they got older. However, behavior improved when children changed from irregular to regular bedtimes. Behavioral problems increased when children changed from regular to irregular bedtimes.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Children 7 and younger. The study researchers theorized that not having a regular bedtime could affect behavior because of “disruptions to circadian rhythms, which are slow to adapt to changes in daily schedules,” and because it could lead to sleep deprivation, which may harm a developing brain.
CAVEATS Data on bedtimes were based on the recollection of the children’s mothers. Information on behavior came from standardized assessments completed by the mothers and the children’s teachers. The study did not list what behaviors were considered bad. It also did not address total time spent sleeping.
FIND THIS STUDY Oct. 14 online issue of Pediatrics.
LEARN MORE ABOUT children’s sleep and bedtime issues at www.kidshealth.org (click “parents,” then search for “all about sleep”) and www.healthychildren.org (search for “sleep”).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.