Health & wellness

MD MAMA

Regular bedtime can help kids’ behavior

Adapted from the MD Mama blog on Boston.com.

If you want to have a well-behaved child, along with setting limits and being consistent with both punishments and rewards, here’s what you should do:

Make sure your child has a regular bedtime.

That’s the message of a study just published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers from the United Kingdom questioned parents of more than 10,000 children about the children’s behavior and sleep habits at ages 3, 5, and 7. They found that the children who didn’t have a regular bedtime were more likely to have difficult behavior.

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We’ve known for a while that poor sleep habits are correlated with poor behavior in children. It has been a bit of a chicken-or-egg thing, though: is it that the poor sleep habits lead to poor behavior, or do kids with poor behavior tend to have difficulty with sleep? This study seems to suggest the former. There’s a direct correlation — i.e. the more irregular the sleep routine, the more trouble with a child’s behavior. Also — and this is the good news — it is reversible. If parents started giving their children a regular bedtime, the behavior problems got better!

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This makes all sorts of sense. Regular sleep routines are important — not just because circadian rhythms are important for health and well-being, but also because they help us get enough sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, it stresses body and mind, hence poor behavior.

While all of us are crankier and less pleasant when we don’t get enough sleep, this has a particular importance for children, because experts believe that sleep is important for the development of parts of the brain that regulate behavior. This means that messed-up sleep in childhood could lead to messed-up behavior for life. Not what we want for our kids.

So, parents, make sure your kid has a regular bedtime, early enough to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep. While the researchers only asked about routines on weeknights, experts say that staying up later on weekends makes it harder to fall asleep on weeknights. Keeping things more or less the same is your best bet.

Here are some tips to help your child fall asleep at that regular bedtime:

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Have a calming bedtime routine — nothing too active or exciting. Try a bath or shower, snuggling, reading . . . things like that.

Cut out the TV and video games. The blue light they emit can activate the brain (so even nonexciting shows can be a problem).

Start the routine early, a good hour or so before bedtime. Relaxation can take time.

It might be a good idea to use this as an opportunity to look at and improve your own bedtime routines. Not only will you set a good example, you might just end up happier and healthier — and better behaved, too!

Read more of this blog at www.boston.com/mdmama.