Parents can learn the hard way that allowing their kids to stay up late can make for cranky campers the next day. Late bedtimes combined with the early mornings required to get everyone fed and off to school on time can leave kids feeling tired, sluggish, and confrontational the next day. At Must Love Kids, your Vancouver family dentist, we want all of our patients to enjoy the best health in the coming new year.

While late bedtimes can certainly cause problems, a new study suggests that inconsistent bedtimes may have a greater effect on a child’s behavior. According to researchers from the University College London, children without a regular bedtime schedule experienced more behavior problems at school and at home. When those children with behavioral problems started going to bed at a consistent time every night, they showed improved behavior, says researchers.

Enter Sandman

Based on data from an ongoing study of over 10,000 British school-aged children, researchers asked mothers involved in the study whether their kids had a regular bedtime during the school week. Researchers then collected that information again when the children were age three, five, and seven.

Participants were also asked to complete a standardize test that measured their child’s behavior, including problems with peers, emotional symptoms, hyperactivity, problems with conduct, and positive behavior.

Researchers found that kids who went to bed after 9 p.m. were more likely to experience behavior problems when compared to children who went to bed at an earlier hour. While that particular point shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, numerous studies have found abundant evidence pinpointing the impact lack of sleep can have on a child’s behavior and performance at school, researchers were surprised to find that irregular bedtimes actually contributed to the worsening of behavioral problems than lack of sleep.

Teachers of children involved in the study were also asked to rate behavior at the age of seven. They, too, reported that kids with irregular bedtimes experienced more reported behavioral problems.

Researchers suspect sleep issues, whether short rest or irregular bedtimes, could affect behavior in two specific ways. It could interfere with a child’s circadian rhythms, an individual’s biological clock that helps establish sleep patterns and makes sleep more restful. Researchers also suspect that sleep issues may interfere with maturation of regions in the brain that help regulate behavior.

As a result of this information, researchers suggest that pediatricians begin inquiring about irregular sleep patterns, not just how many hours a child naps, when assessing behavioral problems.

Nightly Routine

While this particular study does feature some shortcomings – it fails to accurately measure how much a child sleeps, basing its conclusions instead on how much a child’s mother reported him or her sleeping; family with random bedtimes may also have had other problems that affected a child’s behavior not addressed in the study. However, it does underscore what pediatricians have been saying for years – children respond best when they have a nightly bedtime routine.

Typically, these routines include steps such as a child brushes and flosses his teeth before bed, the child is then read a bedtime story, and then the lights are turned off so he can sleep. Pediatricians recommended consistency when establishing a bedtime routine. Brushing and using the bathroom should always proceed any activity that includes a child getting into bed, because once there, a child shouldn’t get back up until the next morning.

Parents should also discourage young children from reading in bed until they fall asleep, as that can drastically alter when their bedtime actually occurs.

From your trusted Vancouver family dentist at Must Love Kids, we hope you and your family enjoy a great 2016!