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Irregular Bedtimes for Children Tied to Behavioral Problems

Update Date: Oct 14, 2013 09:30 AM EDT
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Even though having a baby can be both life changing and chaotic, parents learn to work their lives around a set schedule. This schedule becomes key in getting everyday errands for both themselves and their children done. However, for some people, sticking to a daily routine might be difficult but a new study is reporting that this schedule could be more important than people previously presumed. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of irregular bedtimes on children's health. They found that children who had irregular bedtimes were more likely to have behavioral problems.

"If you are constantly changing the amounts of sleep you get or the different times you go to bed, it's likely to mess up your body clock," the lead investigator of the study, Yvonne Kelly said according to FOX News. Kelly is from the University College London. "That has all sorts of impacts on how your body is able to work the following day."

For this study, Kelly and her colleagues examined data from a long-term study of babies who were born in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2002. The data were composed of over 10,000 children. That study had interviewed parents about their children's sleeping patterns and behavioral issues. The researchers excluded children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers found that by the time the infants reached three-years-old, 20 percent of the parents admitted that their child did not have a set bedtime. When the children reached five-years-old, that percentage fell to nine percent. The rate fell to eight percent when the children reached seven-years-old. The researchers found that children who had inconsistent bedtimes were more likely to have scored poorly on the test that measured behavior. This test scored children on a range from zero to 40, with the higher scores indicating more behavioral problems.

The researchers found that when the children were seven-years-old and did not have a regular bedtime, their average scores were 8.5. For children in the same age group who had a set bedtime schedule, their scores ranged between 6.3 and 6.9. The research team went one step further and interviewed the teachers of these children. They found that teachers tend to give worse behavioral scores for children who had irregular bedtimes. Furthermore, parents who had children who never had a regular bedtime at all three age points had children with the highest levels of behavioral problems in comparison to other children in the study.

"Its very difficult to know whether or not from a study like this, is it literally the not having a regular bedtime schedule that was contributing to the difficulties or is it representative of a bigger picture?" commented Jodi Mindell, who is a pediatric sleep specialist from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, PA. Mindell was not a part of this study.

Whether or not there is a relationship between bedtimes and behavioral problems, the research team recommends that parents take measures to start a bedtime schedule so that children can get good sleep every single night. Kelly states that parents should avoid putting television sets in the children's bedrooms, avoid other types of screens before bedtime and use calming activities, such as reading, right before bed.

"I think that parents need to make sleep a priority, and they need to realize that it has huge ramifications not only that evening, but the next day, the next week, he next year," Kelly said.

The study was published in Pediatrics.

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