A recent study has shown that irregular bedtimes in early childhood have been linked with low scores in reading, maths in both boys and girls.
Going to bed at a different time each night affected girls more than boys, but both fared worse on mental tasks than children who had a set bedtime, researchers found.
The study authors looked at whether bedtimes in early childhood were related to brain power in more than 11,000 seven year olds, all of whom were part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS).
The research drew on regular surveys and home visits made when the kids were 3, 5, and 7, to find out about family routines, including bedtimes.
Scientists at University College London said the lack of routine might impair early development by disrupting the body clock, or through sleep deprivation, which affects the brain’s ability to remember and learn new information.
Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the authors suggest that irregular bedtimes affect the brain’s “plasticity”, or ability to store and learn new information.
“Sleep is the price we pay for plasticity on the prior day and the investment needed to allow fresh learning the next day,” the authors write.
Early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing 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.
3 year olds are most irregular:
Irregular bedtimes were most common at the age of 3, when around one in five children went to bed at varying times.
By the age of 7, more than half the children went to bed regularly between 7.30 and 8.30 pm.
Cognitive development occurs at the age of 3 :
Irregular bedtimes by the age of 5 were not associated with poorer brain power in girls or boys at the age of 7.
But irregular bedtimes at 3 years of age were associated with lower scores in spatial awareness in both boys and girls, suggesting that around the age of 3 could be a sensitive period for cognitive development.
Girls who had never had regular bedtimes at ages 3, 5, and 7 had significantly lower reading, maths and spatial awareness scores than girls who had had consistent bedtimes.
The impact was the same in boys, but for any two of the three time points.
Children whose bedtimes were irregular or who went to bed after 9 pm came from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds, the findings showed.
Therefore, the old saying, ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy,wealthy and wise.’ needs a little modification.