Regular Bedtimes May Be The Answer to Improving Your Child’s Behavior, Mood, & Concentration

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During a recent cross-country trip my daughter dramatically threw herself on the ground kicking and screaming in a gas station parking lot because I wouldn’t buy her one of the “food” items found in a gas station. While the motorcycle gang hanging out in the parking lot found her behavior quite entertaining, I was less than amused.  At the time I didn’t think it was a coincidence that her bedtime routine had been erratic for a few days prior leaving her more prone to the outburst. Many of you have probably found yourself in similar situations and noted the connection between your children’s bedtime routines and their behavior.

A study was published today in Pediatrics Journal that concludes what we have suspected– when children do not have consistent bed time routines they are more likely to have behavioral issues. Researchers looked at data from 10,230 children collected at ages 3, 5, and 7 and found children with non-regular bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties than those with regular bedtimes. They also noted the longer time period the children had irregular bedtimes, the more behavioral difficulties children had.

The study isn’t referring to the occasional late night but rather lack of consistency over the long term.  For example, participation in extra-curricular activities may cause different bedtimes throughout the week or perhaps the parents work schedule is variable causing bedtime to change from night to night.

Consistent bedtime routines support quality sleep and this is critical for young growing children. Numerous other studies outline how sleep routines affect mood, concentration, social skills, energy, and academic performance in addition to behavior.  One study even found that students who reported they were getting C’s, D’s, and F’s in school obtained about 25 minutes less sleep than students who reported they were getting A’s and B’s. If an additional 25 minutes of sleep can mean the difference between A’s and F’s, it is easy to see the devastating and long-lasting effects of sleep deprivation and irregular routines on our children. To counteract these effects and improve your child’s mood, behavior, concentration, and academic performance create a consistent bedtime routine. Here’s How:

  • Choose a bed time based on the age and recommended hours of sleep for your child and maintain this bedtime throughout the week including weekends. Keep regular wake up times as well. See chart below for guidance.
  • Create a bedtime routine chart with your child to reduce power struggles. The chart becomes the boss instead of you and children are more likely to follow the routine.  This minimizes reminding your child continually to put on pajamas or brush teeth. Instead you can ask, what comes next on the chart? Children are more likely to follow through when they come up with the answer themselves. If your child is old enough they can draw pictures on a poster board of the tasks that need to be completed in the order they see fit. You can also take pictures of your child doing tasks for bedtime routine and put them on the poster board. Including your child in the creation of the routine and giving them choices for the order of the routine will likely make bedtime routine go more smoothly.
  • Once you have established a routine make sure spouses, partners, and caregivers are aware of the bedtime routine. This is especially true if children are dividing their time between two different households.
  • Limit “screen time”– especially before bedtime. This includes computers, i pads, video games, and televisions.  Do not put a television in your child’s bedroom so you can control when and how much they watch.
  • Your child should avoid spending non-sleep time in bed so they associate the bed with sleeping.
  • Avoid caffeine—especially in afternoons or evenings.
  • Security objects such as stuffed animals or blankets at bedtime can be helpful to make the transition to bed more comfortable.
  • Include physical activity earlier in the day so your child is more likely to be sleepy at bedtime.
  • There are many books and resources on sleep issues based on different expert opinions. I have yet to find the “perfect” book that works for all families. I recommend looking at a few to find one that resonates with you or take pearls from each. “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” by Richard Ferber and “The No-Cry Sleep Solutions” by Elizabeth Pantley are excellent options.  

      GENERAL SLEEP GUIDELINES BASED ON AGE

AGE

RECOMMENDED HOURS OF SLEEP IN 24 HOURS

0-4 weeks old

16+ hours

1-4 months old

14-15 hours

4-12 months old

14-15 hours

1-3 years old

12-14 hours

3-6 years old

11-12 hours

7-12 years old

10-11 hours

12-18 years old

8-9.5 hours

October 15, 2013

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