Science Backs Up Early Bedtimes

Scheduling our lives around our kids’ bedtimes may seem utterly ridiculous to non-parents; but just ask any mum and dad about the special brand of torture that comes from dealing with an overtired toddler – it ain’t no party. Ever.

sleping toddler

Now, science officially backs up the necessity of early bedtimes (and it’s not just for the preservation of parental sanity).

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Paediatrics,  preschoolers who bid night-night earlier are at much lower risk for developing obesity in their teen years, being “one-half as likely as children with late bedtimes to be obese as adolescents.”

Lead study author Sarah Anderson explains the link:

“Other research has shown benefits for children’s behaviour, cognitive development and attention. Regular bedtime routines, including an early bedtime, also are linked to fewer sleep problems such as nighttime awakenings or difficulty falling asleep.”

But before you panic as to how you’ll adjust your already precariously balanced family timetable to accommodate an earlier lights-out, Anderson points out that it’s not necessarily about the exact time on the clock, but rather the quality and quantity of sleep your children are getting that has a lasting impact on behaviour and health – including their emotional regulation capacity, hormonal function, and metabolism.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has the following recommended hours-of-sleep guidelines for parents, based on a 24-hour period (including naps):

  • Infants 4-12 months: 12-16 hours of sleep a night
  • Kids 1-2 years of age: 11-14 hours of sleep a night
  • Kids 3-5 years of age: 10-13 hours of sleep a night
  • Kids 6-12 years of age: 9-12 hours of sleep a night
  • Teens 13-18 years of age: 8-10 hours of sleep a night

In short, parents need to set a bedtime that will allow kids to get the sleep they need to be fully functional come sun-up (or the wake-up call for school).

Dr. Sumit Bhargava, a clinical associate professor of paediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, emphasises that “An early bedtime, per se, will not necessarily affect a child’s physical health or mood and mental health in a positive way,” Dr. Bhargava told CNN. “The goal should be, choose an age-appropriate bedtime that allows the individual child to get the hours of sleep the child needs.” (Dr. Sumit Bhargava does not endorse any brands or other products).

“Sleep is just as important to human life as eating and breathing,” she adds. “We spend almost a third of our lives sleeping.”