Regular Bedtimes Aide Childhood Cognitive Development


Can a regular bed time aide in a child's cognitive development? A new study says yes.

Yvonne Kelly, PhD, and her colleagues at University College London, reporting online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that girls who did not have a normal and routine bedtime by the age of 7 had lower scores in reading, math and spatial abilities. Scores were not statistically different for boys.

However, both boys and girls who prior to age 7 did not have a routine bedtime were found to have lower cognitive scores compared to those who did have a regular bedtime:

[Failing to have a routine bedtime] could have important ramifications, as when sleep is restricted or disrupted symptoms that reflect a reduced capacity for plastic change [in the brain] and/or disrupted circadian rhythms follow, including cognitive impairment and lack of concentration. 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 study focused on more than 11,000 7-year-olds from the U.K. involved in the longitudinal Millennium Cohort Study.

The researchers offered an explanation for their study's findings:

It might be that inconsistent bedtimes are a reflection of chaotic family settings and it is this, rather than disrupted sleep, that impacts on cognitive performance in children. However, we found that inconsistent bedtimes were linked to markers of cognitive performance independent of multiple markers of stressful family environments.

Markers of stressful family environments included:

  • Parental employment
  • Parental views of the amount of time spent with the child
  • Attendance at a breakfast club or after-school club
  • Other childcare
  • Whether the child was read to or told stories
  • TV time rules
  • Whether there was more than one child in the bedroom
  • Bed wetting
  • The presence of a TV in the bedroom

They concluded that, in addition to other situations, having a routine or regular bedtime influenced childhood cognitive development and urged further research on the topic.

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