Children with 'Nonregular Bedtimes' May Have 'More Behavioral Difficulties,' Study Finds

A recently resurfaced study from 2013 found that "having regular bedtimes during early childhood is an important influence on children's behavior"

Mixed race girl sleeping
Child sleeping. Photo: Getty

Good news for parents enforcing a strict lights-out policy: A regular bedtime routine could have a positive impact on your child’s overall behavior.

In a November 2013 study published in Pediatrics that has recently resurfaced, researchers in the U.K. looked at the sleep habits of more than 10,000 children — specifically, the times at which they went to bed.

“Children with nonregular bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties,” the study found after researchers monitored the children’s bedtimes over the years at ages 3, 5 and 7 years old, as part of the U.K.’s Millennium Cohort Study.

“There was an incremental worsening in behavioral scores as exposure through early childhood to not having regular bedtimes increased,” it noted, explaining that researchers took behavioral data from teachers and mothers.

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kid in bed
Child sleeping. Getty
Two happy sisters on a road trip

The negative effects of sporadic bedtimes were not irreversible, though. Results of changing the bedtime of children who had no routine to a more regular one increased their behavior in a “statistically significant” way, according to the study’s results, regardless of age.

The same logic applied to the opposite experiment, as well: “For children who changed from regular to nonregular bedtimes between ages 5 and 7 there was a statistically significant worsening in scores,” the research read.

“Having regular bedtimes during early childhood is an important influence on children’s behavior,” the study concluded. “There are clear opportunities for interventions aimed at supporting family routines that could have important impacts on health throughout life.”

Little preschool kid boy sleeping in bed with colorful lamp.

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Three years later, a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that while, in adults, the usually decreased brain-wave activity after lack of sleep “is most pronounced over prefrontal brain regions” — which are responsible for memory — children saw sleep-deprivation effects over more areas of the brain.

To conduct this study, researchers measured brain activity in 13 children between the ages of 5 and 12 after they got a full night’s sleep, then again after they got half the amount of sleep they usually do.

They then found that both the parieto-occipital areas (near the back of the brain) and myelin content — fatty matter that, according to WebMD, “helps messages from your brain move quickly and smoothly through your body, like electricity flows from a power source” — were adversely affected.

“The results show that the sleep loss effect on the brain is specific to certain regions and that this correlates with the myelin content of the directly adjacent regions: the more myelin in a specific area, the more the effect appears similar to adults,” said the lead author of the study, Salome Kurth, according to Science Daily.

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