Consistent bedtime matters for brain development

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Researchers say consistent bedtimes are equally important as the number of hours your child sleeps.

Early to bed

I am sure parents have heard—little children need at least 12 hours of sleep a day for healthy development. But there is another saying that goes, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” which seems to be very much taken for granted.

Parents do not realise the importance of imbuing in their children a regular and consistent bedtime. The saying is definitely no ordinary cliché. Or at least what it reinforces is the need for a scheduled sleep, because it is beneficial for your child’s brain.

Consistent bedtime

Researchers in the U.K. have found that children who have a scheduled and consistent bedtime showed signs of having better cognitive abilities. According to Huffington Post, over 11,000 children of the ages 3, 5 and 7 were analysed, and then tested on reading, math and spatial skills.

The study suggests that not adhering to routine bedtimes when they were 3 years of age scored lower on those tests at age 7. Children who also had frequent inconsistent bedtimes showed more pronounced cognitive effects.

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Adhering to a consistent bedtime is crucial for keeping the circadian rhythm functioning properly, which then benefits the body as well as the brain. These internal clocks are driven by our schedules, light and the release of melatonin. And having a consistent bedtime means sleeping at the same time seven days a week, thus allowing the internal clock to be set and melatonin levels to peak at around the same time everyday.

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Nurture your child’s sleep discipline to improve his health and development

Sleep discipline

The thesis however has not been proven true even though the findings are consistent. University College London professor of epidemiology and public health, Dr. Amanda Sacker says, “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.”

Researchers also wrote that a consistent bedtime is related to other factors that could possibly determine a child’s development as well. Researchers wrote that not having a set bedtime is a reflection of a “chaotic family setting”.

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Children with late bedtimes or an inconsistent routine are usually more likely to be watching TV at night or skip breakfast. And these factors may impact the child’s learning development negatively. Whereas a child who has a consistent bedtime is more likelier to receive bedtime stories before he (or she) sleeps.

“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,” says Jodi Mindell, director of graduate psychology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and specialist in paediatric sleep medicine.

What parents can do

According to a survey, 4-year-olds who slept less than 9 hours and 45 minutes a night were found to have more problems with anger and aggression. A child with a consistent bedtime is not only important for his or her cognitive development, it also affects behaviour as well.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends children from the ages of 1 to 3 to have 12 to 14 hours of sleep a day, a child the age of 3 to 5 requires 11 to 12 hours, and children the ages of 5 to 12-year-olds need 10 to 11 hours. So be sure that your child receives the appropriate amount of sleep.

Start from simple steps. If your child has a habit of sleeping late, make sure he sleeps 15 minutes earlier the following night until it is well adjusted to a suitable timing. Maintain it thereafter, and refrain from letting him watch TV or use the computer (or other electronics) right before he sleeps.

What kind of sleeping pattern does your child have? Tell us about it. We’d love to hear from you! To learn more about bedtime routine mistakes to avoid, watch this video:

For more tips and tricks, visit Parenting.com.

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