LOS ANGELES — Struggling with a difficult kid? You might want to take a hard, honest look at how often he or she actually gets to bed on time.
Researchers have found a clear link between the lack of a regular bedtime and behavioral difficulties in children, and it is just what moms and dads know intuitively: Irregular bedtimes often lead to bad behavior in kids.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers also found that, on average, children’s behavior got worse as the number of nights they did not get to bed on time increased.
The research team from University College in London analyzed data from 10,230 7-year-olds from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, with bedtime information collected from interviews with mothers when the children were 3, 5 and 7. The mothers also described their children’s behavior.
It will surprise nobody that they found the children most likely to have irregular bedtimes, or very late bedtimes, were also more likely to be from the poorest homes. Those children were also more likely to skip breakfast, have a television in their room, and have a mom in poor mental health than their regular-bedtime-having peers.
However, the good news in the study is that the effects of not having a regular bedtime appear to be reversible.
“For children who changed from not having to having regular bedtimes, there were improvements in behavioral scores,” the researchers write.
The team, led by Yvonne Kelly, suggests that health care professionals screen for irregular bedtime schedules in young children, and encourage parents to do their best to keep their kids on a regular nighttime schedule.
But they also understand how tough that can be.
“Family routines can be difficult to maintain when parents are working long hours and potentially unsociable hours,” they write. “So policy development is needed to better support families to provide conditions in which young children can flourish.”