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Health & Parenting

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Irregular Bedtimes & Behavior Problems in Kids

But, setting a consistent bedtime can get children back on track, researcher says


"A half-point corresponds to a 'small' effect. Irregular bedtimes at two ages, and all three ages, corresponded to a 1- and 2-point difference in behavior scores. These effect sizes would have 'moderate' clinical significance," said Kelly when asked if these score differences would make a noticeable difference in a child's behavior.

The good news from the study is that if you switch your child to a regular bedtime from an irregular bedtime schedule, your child's behavior will likely improve. The reverse is also true. If a child with a regular bedtime switches to an irregular one, behavior will likely worsen, the researchers noted.

Kelly said irregular bedtimes could contribute to behavior problems in several ways. "First, switching bedtimes from night to night interferes with circadian rhythms [the body clock] and induces a state akin to jet lag. Second, disrupted sleep interferes with processes to do with brain maturation," she explained.

Dr. Ruby Roy, a pediatrician at La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago, agreed that several reasons may contribute to a connection between irregular bedtimes and behavior problems.

"When kids don't have structure and predictability, they have anxiety," Roy said. "Kids naturally want to push boundaries, and when they don't have boundaries, it causes anxiety and acting out. A lack of sleep can also cause behavior problems, and some of these kids may only be going to sleep when they're passing out from exhaustion, which means they won't get enough sleep," she explained.

"Kids probably sleep better with regular bedtimes and when they have established bedtime routines," Roy added.

Kelly concluded: "Getting regular routines around bedtimes appears to be important for children's behavioral development. But, there are lots of other influential factors, too. So we shouldn't get too hung up about children having the same bedtime every single night."

The study was published online Oct. 14 and in the November print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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