A new large-scale, population-based cohort study tracked bedtimes and behavior of children born in the United Kingdom, and found children with irregular bedtimes were more likely to have behavioral difficulties at age 7.
The study, “Changes in Bedtime Schedules and Behavioral Difficulties in 7 Year Old Children,” was published in the November 2013 issue of Pediatrics.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 children in the UK Millennium Cohort Study, with bedtime data collected at 3, 5 and 7 years, as well as reports from the children’s mothers and teachers on behavioral problems. The study authors found a clear dose-response pattern; as children progressed through early childhood without a regular bedtime, their behavioral scores worsened. However, children who switched to a more regular bedtime had clear improvements in their behavior.
Not having a regular bedtime could affect children’s behavior by disrupting circadian rhythms, and by the harm that sleep deprivation causes to the developing brain. The study authors conclude that because the study shows the effects of inconsistent bedtimes are reversible, health care providers could check for sleep disruptions as part of routine health care visits.