Bedtime matters!

In a significant study a couple of years ago, British researchers compared the bedtimes of over 10,000 children and found that a regular bedtime had a significant influence on their behavior.

Those who had a regular bedtime tended to have fewer behavioral issues, as reported by the mothers and the teachers.

Even more important for parents, children who switched from a regular bedtime to an irregular bedtime had significantly more reports of poor behavior.

Meanwhile, those who switched from an irregular bedtime to a regular bedtime saw significant behavioral improvement.

These observations are based on data collected by the The UK Millennium Cohort Study, with reports taken about children’s habits, at 3, 5, and 7 years of age.

In their report, published in Pediatrics, researchers Yvonne Kelly, John Kelly, and Amanda Sacker concluded:

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

This means that if a child’s behavior deteriorates, it is important to consider whether their sleep schedule needs tightening up.

This may not be the first thing we think of when a child is getting troublesome. It is so easy to think they are just growing into a new more combative stage, or that they have a new stress we haven’t identified yet.

Or the school might report deteriorating behavior and we get concerned about school, without realizing there are small changes at home which can make a big difference at school.

Attention to basic needs, including healthy sleep, is the second secret discussed in my book The Seven Secrets of Successful Parents. Too often we assume our children are getting all they need, when a small tweak might make a huge difference in their behavior at home and at school, and that, in turn, can affect their whole lives as they mature.

This study is also a great boost for parents because the importance of bedtime is relatively independent of the length or depth of sleep. The regularity of bedtime all by itself made a “nontrivial significant difference” in behavior.

For parents, this means the one scheduling task of establishing a regular bedtime can make a real difference.

Some modern parents have taken the position that this is one area where children could be allowed some freedom of choice, about when they go to bed.

But now we know that this is actually an area where parents need to maintain control. Establishing good health habits early is in fact one of the best gifts we can give our children.

If bedtime is a struggle in your family, stay firm but gentle. Ask what will be the bedtime routine that they want to have.

Establish a pleasant routine which your 3 to 7 year old child enjoys, whether it’s a bath, a bit of running around to release nervous energy, a fun movie or video, reading a book together, having a sip of water, hugging some favorite stuffed animals, a goodnight kiss, choosing the right pajamas and blanket, sharing memories or latest questions or ideas, or all of the above!

The time you spend making this happen can save time overall by avoiding having to deal with a child acting out, and it will be a whole lot more fun!

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