Research shows irregular bedtime routine can affect child behaviour

Most parents already suspect that routine is an important element in child development but now it is confirmed. Research carried out on over 10,000 children by University College London, as part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study, has found that without a regular bedtime children are more likely to experience behavioural problems including hyperactivity, repetitive bad behaviour and problems with peers.

Not providing a consistent bedtime can cause jet lag type effects and the longer the lack of routine goes on, the greater the impact. Natural body rhythms are disrupted causing sleep deprivation and in turn affecting brain development.

Professor Yvonne Kelly, of UCL Epidemiology and Public Health noted that 'Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning.

According to the study, which collected bedtime data from children aged 3,5 and 7, it is at age three when most irregular bedtimes were noted but by age seven more than half of the children studied went to bed regularly between 7.30pm and 8.30pm

If you are a parent who does not apply regular bedtimes all is not lost. Making changes now could reverse any effects. The study showed that where children had irregular bedtimes aged either three or five but moved to more regular bedtimes by age 7 there was a noticeable improvement in behaviour.

The results of the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, identified the need for the development of policy to support families particularly for families where developing a consistent routine may be difficult as a result of work commitments and conditions.

Prof Kelly also stated that 'As it appears the effects of inconsistent bedtimes are reversible, one way to try and prevent this would be for healthcare providers to check for sleep disruptions as part of routine health care visits.

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