Did you know that irregular bedtimes can cause jet lag like symptoms? A survey of 10,000 children showed irregular bedtimes are connected to hyperactivity, acting out and emotional withdrawal.
In an interview with Michelle Trudeau on National Public Radio, researcher Yvonne Kelly from University College in London said, “Children with late bedtimes and non-regular bedtimes were more likely to have behavioral difficulties…[including] hyperactivity and conduct problems. So hitting people and acting out, and not getting on with peers, and being emotionally withdrawn.”
Kelly has been studying numerous details surrounding bedtime in thousands of homes in the U.K.
After taking into account a wide range of factors including family size, income level, the amount of television watched, dietary habits and more, the research has found that bedtime patterns have the greatest impact on children’s behavior.
“If you change their bedtimes, say, 7 o’clock one night, 9 o’clock, the next, 8 o’clock the next, 10 o’clock the next, if we do too much of that switching, we end up inducing this kind of jet-lag effect, which makes it really, really difficult to regulate behavior,” Kelly said.
Irregular bedtimes throw off the body’s circadian rhythm — the biological clock that regulates patterns of sleep and wakefulness. The part of the brain that controls the circadian rhythm is affected by light. When the sun goes down and ambient light fades, the brain produces a hormone called melatonin, which causes drowsiness. When the sun rises, and ambient light increases, the production of melatonin drops.
According to sleep researcher Russell Rosenberg, children have a rise in melatonin earlier in the evening than teenagers or adults. The natural time for young children to fall asleep is between 7 and 8 p.m., Rosenberg says.
Televisions, computers, phones, tablets and iPods emit blue light, which suppresses the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. A good rule of thumb is to turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. That’s when you can begin the wind down to your bedtime routine.
Problems Are Reversible
According to Kelly’s study, the behavior problems caused by irregular sleep are reversible. When parents established a bedtime routine, and children went to sleep at the same time each day, their behavior improved.
Sleep experts say that a routine is an important part of healthy sleep habits for kids.
We are big proponents of starting your day the night before, and kids are never too young to begin building this valuable life skill. So step one of a good bedtime is preparing for the next day.
Even with an infant, you can take them into the bedroom, lay on the floor for tummy time and narrate what you are doing: “Now we’re going to prepare for tomorrow. Mommy is taking out your clothes for tomorrow. This outfit is perfect. Don’t you agree?” Narrating like this dramatically increases a child’s vocabulary, which is a key indicator to later academic success, just make sure if you do this, get some baby girl onesies they might actually want to wear.
For toddlers, you can select a few outfits, and let them choose which one they’d like to wear the next day. If you’re going to be out during the day, your toddler can help you pack lunches. Children at any age can participate in this part of the routine. It signals the end of one day and helps gear up for the next.
A warm, relaxing bath is another good addition to a bedtime routine. Of course teeth brushing and PJs should be part of it.
And after that, choose a calm activity like reading a bedtime story and singing a quiet bedtime song. Remember to keep lights dim.
The Order Is Important
Young children don’t have a solid concept of time, but routine helps. When a bedtime routine is predictable — you follow the exact same steps every time — it helps them understand what is coming next, which gives children a sense of safety and peace.
With consistency and a commitment to an established bedtime at an age appropriate hour, children will develop a strong circadian rhythm, which in turn has positive effects on behavior.