With Kids’ Bedtimes, Consistency Is Key To Learning And Development

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I read with interest, but not surprise this new piece of research on the importance of sleep.

Parents have all heard, and personally experienced, how critical a good night’s sleep is for their children. But new research suggests that the consistency of kids’ bedtimes matters just as much for their developing brains as the number of hours they get.

Researchers in the U.K. analysed data from more than 11,000 children whose families were asked about their bedtimes when they were 3, 5 and 7 years old. At age 7, the children were tested on reading, math and spatial skills.

Seven-year-old girls who did not have a regular bedtime scored lower on all three cognitive tests than girls who had consistent bedtimes, although there were no significant differences among boys.

The study also suggests that not adhering to a set schedule can have cumulative long-term effects. Children whose parents said that they had inconsistent bedtimes when they were 3 scored lower on reading, math and spatial tests at age 7. And children who had inconsistent bedtimes at more than one period showed more pronounced cognitive effects.

“We don’t know for sure if it is the consistency or just getting enough sleep that is critical, as the two are inextricably linked,” study co-researcher Amanda Sacker, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University College London wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. Her findings were published in the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” this week.

It is possible that not having a set bedtime is a reflection of “chaotic family settings,” the researchers wrote. Children with late bedtimes — anything after 9 p.m. — as well as those with inconsistent bedtimes were more likely to skip breakfast or have a television in their bedroom, both of which can have a negative impact on learning and development.

“It’s probably part of a bigger picture, which is that families who don’t have a bedtime routine are also often families who are lax about other things, like nutrition or reading to their child,” said Jodi Mindell, director of graduate psychology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, who specializes in pediatric sleep medicine. She cited a 2004 National Sleep Foundation poll that found that children who get more sleep are also more likely to be read to at night, which helps boost language and reading skills.

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