When your little one pleads with misty eyes to stay up “just a little bit longer,” it would be a good idea to think again before saying yes. Research suggests that late nights and lax bedtime routines can blunt young children’s minds.
The findings on sleep patterns and brain power come from a UK study of more than 11,000 seven-year-olds.
The group of researchers found that lack of sleep may disrupt natural body rhythms as well as impair how well the brain receives information.
They gathered data on the children at the ages of three, five and then seven to find out how well they were doing with their learning and whether this might be related to their sleeping habits.
Overall, children who had never had regular bedtimes tended to fare worse than their peers in terms of test scores for reading, maths and spatial awareness.
The impact was more obvious throughout early childhood in girls than in boys and appeared to be cumulative.”
The researchers, led by Prof Amanda Sacker from University College London, said it was “possible that inconsistent bedtimes were a reflection of chaotic family settings and it was this, rather than disrupted sleep, that had an impact on cognitive performance in children.”
“We tried to take these things into account,” said Prof Sacker.
It seems that the children with late and The children with late, inconsistent bedtimes came from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds and were less likely to be read to each night. They also generally watched more TV, often on on their own set in their bedroom.
After controlling for such factors, the link between poorer mental performance and lax bedtimes remained.
The findings are published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Prof Sacker said: “The take-home message is really that routines really do seem to be important for children.
“Establishing a good bedtime routine early in childhood is probably best, but it’s never too late.”
She said there was no evidence that putting children to bed much earlier than 19:30 added anything in terms of brain power.
Dr Robert Scott-Jupp of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “At first glance, this research might seem to suggest that less sleep makes children less intelligent, however, it is clearly more complicated than that.
“While it’s likely that social and biological brain development factors are inter-related in a complex way, in my opinion, for schoolchildren to perform their best, they should all, whatever their background, get a good night’s sleep.”
Source: BBC News