Getting children to bed at night isn’t just important for preserving the sanity of the parents. It’s vital for the healthy development of young brains too.
Researchers in the UK found a correlation between consistent bedtimes during early childhood and cognitive performance and suggested that going to bed at different times each night during those formative years may have a knock-on effect throughout life.
The researchers examined data from over 11 000 seven-year-olds to investigate whether bedtimes in early childhood were related to brain power. The authors’ findings, which were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, yielded some surprising results including the fact that regular bedtimes in early childhood impacted their maths, reading and spatial awareness skills and that the effect of irregular bedtimes appeared to be cumulative.
Before we delve further into the findings, let’s look at sleep in young children and why it’s important.
How much sleep does a young child need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers (aged 1-2) need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep each night, preschoolers (aged 3-5) should get 10 to 13 hours and older kids (aged 6-13) should aim to get nine to 11 hours each night.
Sufficient sleep is vital for a child’s healthy growth and development. It helps build a strong immune system, it’s crucial for learning, language development, memory and concentration, it impacts mood and alertness and it helps children heal and recover both physically and mentally. Sleep is also important for moderating behaviour.
More about the sleep study and how irregular bedtimes curb brain power in young children
The sample was drawn from the UK Millenium Cohort Study (MCS) which is a nationally representative longitudinal study of children born between 2000 and 2002. Researchers collected data on the children’s bedtime routines (including the time they went to bed and the consistency of their bedtimes) when the children were aged three, five and seven years.
The researchers were looking to see whether any periods during early childhood were more critical than others and whether their bedtime routines (or lack thereof) had any impact on their intellectual performance.
Some of the findings were remarkable.
Irregular bedtimes were most common when the child was three years of age, but this settled by the age of seven when over half the sample went to bed regularly between 7.30pm and 8.30pm.
When they were seven years old, the children were tested on reading, maths and spatial awareness. Irregular bedtimes at the age of three years were found to have negatively impacted the scores of both boys and girls, but findings were not definitive as to whether irregular bedtimes at aged five were associated with lower cognitive scores.
The negative impact of irregular bedtimes appeared to be cumulative and the suggestion was made that three years of age could be a sensitive period for a child’s cognitive development.
Researchers also discovered that a child’s economic circumstances impacted the consistency of their bedtimes. Children who went to bed after 9pm at night or who had inconsistent bedtimes came from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
Irregular bedtimes can result in reduced or disrupted sleep during key times in a child’s development and this can have lasting long-term health impacts. Sleep deprivation is a serious matter, and can affect the development of the brain. You might also like to read Six Ways To Help Your Baby Settle Into A Solid Sleep Routine At Childcare
As the authors of the study said: “Early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing across the life course. Therefore reduced or disrupted sleep, especially if it occurs at key times in development, could have important impacts on health throughout life.” While the proverb: ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’ originated centuries ago, the meaning behind the words is as relevant as ever. Young children need sufficient consistent, quality rest in order to thrive and be successful and families who establish a consistent bedtime routine for their young children with regular bedtimes will be setting them up for life.
To find out more about the healthy development of young brains then book a tour of one of our Evoke Early Learning childcare centres in Clayton or Albert Park. Our friendly and professional team has all the information you need to make a well-considered decision and we look forward to meeting you.