Kids Need Regular Bedtimes or Their Brains Turn to Mush (Sort Of)

sleeping girlGet thy kids to bed on time. That's the takeaway from a new British study that says kids' cognitive abilities may be diminished if they don't keep a regular bedtime.

As much as we want them to go to sleep (peace, at last!), however, it's not always easy with older siblings' activities, and especially in the long, lazy days of summer. But all those extra hours up here and late nights there can really do some significant damage to their brainpower it seems.

According to U.S. News, the study followed 11,000 children at ages 3, 5, and 7. When given tests to check math and reading skills and spatial awareness, those who had irregular bedtimes at age 3 scored lower in all three areas than those who went to bed at a consistent time each night.

Results varied from there at older ages, but girls were especially affected by sleep irregularities. At age 7 girls with irregular bedtimes scored lower on all three tests, while boys didn't seem to be affected as significantly. Experts say the effects seem to be cumulative over the years. Study author Amanda Sacker explained:

Early child development has profound influences on health and well-being 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.

The paper notes that while the study proved a connection, it "did not prove cause-and-effect". It also did not find that staying up late was detrimental, as long as the hour they go to bed is consistent. Still, it's the best reason I've heard in a long time to get my kids to bed on time each night. I'm pretty consistent anyway -- mostly because I work at night and need the peace and quiet -- but it's good to know that it's paying off in other ways too.

As for getting them to sleep, that can be another story despite the best of intentions, but here are seven great tips to get toddlers to sleep that can help.

Do your kids keep a regular bedtime? What do you make of this study?


Image via Loren Kerns/Flickr

a mom's life, bedtime, toddler health, toddler development


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Amanda Parker

Yes My kids go to bed at the same time every night 7:30pm . I think consistancy in highly important :D

Sara1... Sara10711

yes sleep is important but also the parents that have the consistent bedtimes may be helping their children more with their education because they are disciplined parents.

Erika Villatoro

I couldn't agree more. I've been a slacker when it comes to my now 4 year olds bedtime and I'm starting to see the consequences now :(

kimbe... kimberly12345

i totally agree 100%. Even though I am not at all a good disciplinarian! Oh how I wish I were! Thankfully I have a ten year old son who is well mannered & gives me no trouble whatsoever ... I'd have to say that's my only complaint the fact that he likes & does stay up late quite often. I don't mind most of the time but during school I'd like to have him in bed by 9:00 every night. Unfortunately we usually don't make it to bed before 10:00. I'd love to change that just so I'll know all day while he's at school that he should be well rested and not sleepy!

irish... irishmama1007

My kids (3 and 5) have always had consistent nap and bed times. I rarely deviate from those times. When I do, I make sure they make up for lost sleep. I also have a newborn and I have already started a routine for bedtime.

Mandi Norton

Our 4 year old goes to bed at 8 every night. Consistency is very important.

Felip... FelipesMom

I think sara1071's point is essential. I think this is, in fact, th emost likely situation in many studies. It might not be the regular bedtime itself, or the healthy food or time outside or limited screen time etc etc etc - it may be that the kinds of families where you normally find these characteristics are also the kinds of families that provide other things to their kids, and those other things are what truly fuel the benefits. Those other things might be love, snuggles, empathy, validation, a feeling of safety, a feeling that their thoughts and feelings matter, etc etc etc.

Rmlupin Rmlupin

I put my boys to bed at 7:30 every night.  We have the same routine every time; brushing teeth, bed time stories, & talking about our favorite part of the day. It defiitely helps us unwind peacefully. The consistency is key.  It's comforting to know that no matter what kind of day we have, we can look forward to something familiar in the evenings. 

nonmember avatar brith

Im not in the habit of believing in test scores too much, and im not a crazy fanatical scheduled person, however my children have always maintained a reasonable bedtime throughout their lives, and i believe if nothing else, it makes for calm more emotionally stable people. I have family members who have NEVEr imposed bedtime on thier kids since the oldest was a baby and cried during naps. They didnt like the crying so they decided the kids would sleep if they basically fell over passed out, and thats it. Now that child is a smart kid, but much more emotionally charged than mine-always looks exhausted and the kids never go to bed at night, making for tired parents! I have always encouraged mine to go to bed if they are feeling tired, especially since my oldest has to be up at 6 to catch the bus. He is often in bed earlier than his bedtime because he is just tired! i can always tell how on edge mine are when they come back from a sleepover at this families house-they are crabby and need sleep! I dont know why this isnt discussed more in DRs offices with a new baby-the schedule is so important for mental health.

Bunny Lee DuChemin Wilson

I dont buy this. My kids are very smart and well adjusted. My daughter is even a year ahead in school and we never did bedtimes. Humans know when they are hungry, sleepy, restless, etc. It's called on-demand nurturing. Follow your baby's (child's) body cues so thing will happen naturally.

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