Sending children to bed at a regular time gives parents time for themselves, but a new study finds a set routine helps improve children's behavior.
Researchers from University College London collected bedtime data from more than 10,000 children during the course of four years - at three, five and seven years of age - along with reports about behavioral problems from mothers and teachers.
Their analysis revealed a clear clinical and statistically significant link between bedtimes and behavior. The researchers say irregular bedtimes affected children's behavior by disrupting their bodies' natural rhythms, leading to sleep deprivation that affects the developing brain.
Behavioral problems worsened as children began school with no change in their sleep schedule, but there were clear improvements if the children were given a more regular bedtime.
Because the effects of inconsistent bedtimes appear to be reversible, and early childhood development has a significant impact on later health, lead author Yvonne Kelly suggests reviewing sleep patterns be a regular part of routine health care.
The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.