Researchers from University College London have just disclosed the results of a new study on bedtime involving over 10,000 children. Their conclusions aren’t surprising; kids with regular bedtimes are better behaved.
According to the study, uneven bedtimes upset circadian rhythms, or everyday cycles of biological activity, in kids, and this can lead to sleep deprivation, which in turn can affect cognitive development.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t always manifest itself in intuitive ways. Children who don’t get enough sleep often become hyperactive and obstinate (or “cranky,” as your mom called it). There is growing suspicion that many children with sleep disorders have been misdiagnosed as having A.D.H.D. The value of sleep is undisputed, yet, as Vatsal G. Thakkar of N.Y.U. School of Medicine points out, “today’s youngsters sleep more than an hour less than they did a hundred years ago. And for all ages, contemporary daytime activities—marked by nonstop 14-hour schedules... often impair sleep.”
The National Sleep Foundation says that children between the ages of five and 12 require 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. For working parents, this can be a real challenge to enforce. At the same time, we are regularly reminded about the importance of a healthy, home-cooked, family dinner, faced with increasing homework loads to help tackle, and told that modern, over-scheduled kids can benefit from increased alone time.
So, do the math: 10-11 hours of sleep, plus 9 hours of school (and getting ready for school) plus an hour for a family dinner, plus an hour of homework, plus an hour of “alone time,” leaves all of 2-3 hours of flex time, assuming your child has no activities or play dates.
I get home at 7 p.m. each night, and the bus comes for my daughters, ages seven and nine, at 7:35 every morning. For my kids to get even 10 hours of sleep each night, they must be slumbering by at least 8:30. That gives me a scant 1.5 hours to cook dinner, calmly sit down and eat with my family, plow through the schoolwork, and let the girls meaningfully spend time by themselves. An occasional bath is really pushing it. The math doesn’t add up.
In discussing the significance of the bedtime study, team leader Yvonne Kelly pointed out that “policy development is needed to better support families to provide conditions in which young children can flourish." Amen to that.
Does your child have a regular bedtime and get sufficient sleep, or do you have trouble fitting it all in? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.