Inconsistent Bedtimes May Be Harmful to Children

It’s no secret that everyone needs a good night’s sleep – especially kids. However, going to bed at the same time each night can help young children perform better intellectually.

A recent study provided by the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at UCL, shows that irregular bedtimes for young children have a significant impact on their cognitive development because it can disrupt natural body rhythms and curb brain power.

Inconsistent bedtimes can also cause sleep deprivation by confusing the brain about when it’s time to shut down. In turn, this affects the brain’s ability to grasp and hold on to information. This is especially important during the early and critical stages of brain development as it can have long-lasting effects.

Senior author Professor Amanda Sacker, Director of the ESRC International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at UCL, says, “Early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing across the life course. Therefore, reduced or disrupted sleep, especially if it occurs at key times in development, could have important impacts on health throughout life.”

How to Develop a Consistent Bedtime Routine:

  • First, set a specific time for your child to go to bed each night and stick to it. A child’s body clock will adjust much more quickly if it has a consistent pattern to follow.
  • Start the process an hour before bedtime by slowing things down. Lower activity levels and put the kibosh on rough housing, running around, tickling or watching action-packed videos and television shows.
  • Offer a light snack – but nothing sugary. Preferably, something with protein such as a piece of cheese. Make sure little teeth are brushed afterwards.
  • This is a good time to give children their baths in preparation for relaxation. Plus, the warm water promotes sleepiness.
  • Dress your child in comfortable, non-binding pajamas that are not too warm or too light. It’s hard for anyone to sleep when they’re too hot or chilled.
  • Reading a favorite story or book is a very comforting routine to develop. You may also want to play soft music in the background.
  • Tuck your child in with a favorite stuffed animal, doll, or blanket and say, “Good night.” Keep it brief and tell her you’ll see her in the morning. Resist the urge to come back when she calls for you; otherwise, she will quickly discover this is a new game that will help prolong a visit from the “Sandman.”

Recognizing Sleep Problems

After establishing a consistent routine, if your child is still having difficulty falling asleep causing exhausting bedtime battles, you may want to consult with your family doctor. Other concerns about potential sleep problems could be trouble sleeping through the night, frequent nightmares or night terrors, excessive crying, snoring, heavy breathing, or sleepwalking. One of the biggest issues that affect sleep is an anxiety disorder. A professional evaluation by a mental health provider can help determine if there is any cause for concern and provide you with an effective strategy.