sleeping child
Irregular bedtimes can increase the risk of behavioural problems in children, researchers reveal.hlkljgk/Flickr

Irregular bedtimes can increase the risk of behavioural problems in children, researchers reveal.

Getting a goodnight's sleep is an inevitable part of a kid's routine. Majority of the parents try to enforce a regular bedtime for children as part of a disciplinary habit.  

A team of researchers at the University College London (UCL) in UK have now found out that regular bedtime at childhood is crucial for proper development of the brain and also that sleeping at different timings disturbed body's natural rhythms and caused hyperactivity, conduct problems and emotional difficulties in children.

"Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning," researcher, Yvonne Kelly, said in a news release. "We know that early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing across the life course. It follows that disruptions to sleep, especially if they occur at key times in development, could have important lifelong impacts on health."

The study included more than 10,000 children, enrolled in the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS). To analyse the role of regular bedtimes at childhood, researchers recorded the children's bedtimes and behaviour at different ages, including three, five and seven.  Children went to bed on different timings mainly at age three, while developed a regular bedtime by age seven (between 7.30 and 8.30 pm).

Researchers found that irregular bedtimes disrupted circadian rhythms, caused sleep deprivation and affected the brain's ability to regulate behaviour. 

"What we've shown is that these effects build up incrementally over childhood, so that children who always had irregular bedtimes were worse off than those children who did have a regular bedtime at one or two of the ages when they were surveyed," professor Kelly, said. "But our findings suggest the effects are reversible," continued Professor Kelly. "For example, children who change from not having to having regular bedtimes show improvements in their behaviour."

The study was published in the online issue of Pediatrics Today.

The same researchers had reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health in July this year that irregular bedtime can affect a child's skills at math, reading and spatial awareness at age seven.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers should get around 12 to 14 hours sleep per day. Previous studies have shown that quality sleep improves children's language skills and poor sleep could lead to heart diseases, academic problems and behavioural malfunctioning.