Irregular Bedtimes Hampers Brain Development in Children

First Posted: Oct 15, 2013 06:07 AM EDT

A recent study has established a link between irregular sleep timings and behavioral problems in children. The research pointed out that children having irregular bedtimes end up disturbing their circadian rhythms that triggers sleep deprivation and hampers brain development.

The study, led by Professor Yvonne Kelly from UCL (University College  London) Epidemiology & Public Health, emphasizes the importance of sleep for children.

"Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning," Prof. Kelly said in a news release.

"We know that early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing across the life course. It follows that disruptions to sleep, especially if they occur at key times in development, could have important lifelong impacts on health."

The researchers examined the bed time data of above 10,000 children in the U.K, Millennium Cohort Study when the children were three, five and seven years of age. Data regarding their sleeping habit was accumulated by the researchers and  parents and teachers of these children were questioned  about any behavioral problems that the children portrayed.

Problems like hyperactivity, emotional problems, issues with friends and conduct disorder were observed in children who had irregular sleeping timings. An improvement was observed in the behavior of the children whose parents adopted regular bedtimes.

"What we've shown is that these effects build up incrementally over childhood, so that children who always had irregular bedtimes were worse off than those children who did have a regular bedtime at one or two of the ages when they were surveyed," Prof. Kelly stated.

"But our findings suggest the effects are reversible. For example, children who change from not having to having regular bedtimes show improvements in their behaviour." Prof. Kelly continued.

One out of five children was found to go to bed at irregular timings; this phenomenon was common among three year olds. A correction was observed in the behavior of more than half of the children by the time they turned seven. Children who had varying bedtime or slept late (after 9 p.m.) were found to have socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

"As it appears the effects of inconsistent bedtimes are reversible, one way to try and prevent this would be for health care providers to check for sleep disruptions as part of routine health care visits. Given the importance of early childhood development on subsequent health, there may be knock-on effects across the life course. Therefore, there are clear opportunities for interventions aimed at supporting family routines that could have important lifelong impacts," Prof. Kelly concluded.

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