It has long been considered a parental must - a regular bedtime, adhered to by compliant children. But steady bedtimes can mean more than a few hours’ peace and quiet for mums and dads according to new research, which shows that children who are put to bed at the same time each day are significantly less likely to misbehave.
Children with erratic bedtimes were more likely to have behavioural problems including hyperactivity, problems with peers and emotional difficulties and demonstrate symptoms similar to jetlag, according to experts.
Children who went for longer periods without a regular bedtime suffered a greater impact, caused by disruptions to natural body rhythms that can cause sleep deprivation.
This in turn was found to undermine the way the brain matures and children’s ability to behave well, according to a study of more than 10,000 children carried out by University College London (UCL).
But the impact of erratic sleep patterns was not found to be irreversible - parents who started putting their children to bed at consistent times noticed an improvement in their behaviour, as did teachers.
The data was collected via the UK Millennium Cohort Study, with bedtimes noted at age three, five and seven, and information on behaviour collected from parents and teachers.
Three-year-olds were the most likely to have erratic bedtimes, with one in five children going to bed at varying times. But by age seven, more than half of children went to bed regularly between 7.30pm and 8.30pm with just 9% going to bed after 9pm.
Children who had changeable bedtimes between the ages of three and five displayed better behaviour by age seven if their bedtimes became more regular. If erratic bedtimes were not tackled, however, parents could expect their child’s behaviour to progressively deteriorate.
Professor Yvonne Kelly, from UCL’s department of epidemiology and public health, said early child development was well known to have profound influences on health and wellbeing throughout a lifetime: “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,” she said.