Irregular bedtimes 'sap children's brain power'. Your thoughts on new study findings?

(69 Posts)
HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 09-Jul-13 13:01:49


We've been getting lots of enquiries today, asking what you folk think of the study that's all over the news today, suggesting that lax/irregular bedtime routines can 'blunt young children's minds'.

Apparently, the researchers (writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that seven-year-olds who had no regular bedtime had lower scores for reading and maths - even when other factors, such as a chaotic family life, were taken in account.

So what do you think? Are you surprised? What time do your children go to bed? And how much importance do you place on a regular bedtime once your child is school-age?

ShatnersBassoon Tue 09-Jul-13 13:18:20

I'm not surprised at all. My children are good for nothing if they haven't had enough sleep, they can't concentrate and get worked up over the smallest set back.

They have regular bedtimes on school nights, no messing around. I'd rather deal with a bit of whining in the evening when I'm capable of fielding it with good humour than have to deal with ratty children in the morning when I'm far more likely to be snappy.

HomageToCannelloni Tue 09-Jul-13 13:19:45

I'm hugely surprised, as the two top kids in my dd's y3 class (academically) both have late, late bedtimes, sometimes as late as 10pm. Dd has a much earlier bedtime and yet is distinctly middle of her class and lower middle in some subjects.
I think this study, like many'statistical' ones before it has been made to say what the researchers want it to.
there will always be kids for whom this IS the case, just as there will always be kids for whom it is not.

JeanBillie Tue 09-Jul-13 13:40:36

This is pretty common sense, isn't it? We've all seen the fall-out after a late night/bad night - it's easier for everyone the following day if your child is well rested.

But also the best routine in the world can go to pot if your toddler decides to kick off for an hour and a half after bedtime.

*the two top kids in my dd's y3 class (academically) both have late, late bedtimes, sometimes as late as 10pm. Dd has a much earlier bedtime and yet is distinctly middle of her class and lower middle in some subjects.
I think this study, like many'statistical' ones before it has been made to say what the researchers want it to.*

Had to respond to this - the point of peer-reviewed, statistically-tested surveys, requiring valid sample sizes, is that they do produce as near as you can get to unbiased results. Unlike, say, your sample of 3 children.

poachedeggs Tue 09-Jul-13 13:45:11

This makes sense to me. DS in particular struggles to concentrate and listen to instructions when he's tired, he becomes impulsive, emotionally labile and distracted. I'm strict about his bedtimes because his pre-school already raised concerns about him when he had a medical problem disrupting his sleep. He's in primary now and I can see how much tiredness could affect him.

DD is younger but will cry and whinge if she's tired. It's cruel to let her stay up late.

IIRC there are strong links between ADHD and sleep - ADHD children had fewer symptoms when they had an hour more sleep, or something like that.

I do suspect that screen time is a factor here, lots of my 5 year old's peers have TVs in their rooms, as well as games consoles and tablets etc. Poor wee things are trying to grow, learn and rest at night, they can't be expected to succeed if they aren't given proper bedtimes.

juule Tue 09-Jul-13 14:01:29

Probably depends on the child.
Some need more sleep than others.
More to do with whether a child is tired than what time that child goes to bed.

I'd say this was true for just about everyone and not just children. Their young brains may suffer more but my cognitive skills have certainly suffered in the past 3 years and I blame non sleeping DD. I looked on a Dementia website as I was worried about my short term memory and it recommended lots of sleep and going to bed at similar times every night as one of the ways to maintain a healthy brain.

Makes a lot of sense, but I would be interested to read the study to understand how they controlled for factors like chaotic family lives - is it jus my innate snobbery which assumes a strong correlation between chaos in family life and late/inconsistent bedtimes?

Personally, on school nights I am fairly fierce about bedtime, but I also think that they need to work out what tired feels like and take themselves to bed, so at weekends and holidays I will sometimes let them decide for themselves when to go to bed.

sleepyhead Tue 09-Jul-13 14:43:08

Ds2 is 13 weeks old and sleeping for 13 hours at night. Ds1 is 6 and has never done this in his life, despite having had the same bedtime "routine" as a tiny baby as Ds2.

We are consistent with Ds1 about bedtime routines, but you can't actually force a child to sleep (short of drugging them) and he just doesn't seem to need as much sleep as the average child. Bed time is around 8.30pm but he often doesn't fall asleep for about another hour.

He has no problem getting up in the morning, is bright eyed and bushy tailed (unlike his parents..) and concentrates well in school.

It's worrying to think that he might be affected by having a shorter than average sleep, but I'm not going to get too het up about it because we've tried before to get him going to sleep earlier - nothing works.

I also have a great deal of sympathy for him - I also took a long time to get to sleep as a child (still do), and despite being in bed from 7pm was often still awake at 10pm. I guess in this, as in all things, there is a curve for what is "normal".

Thumbwitch Tue 09-Jul-13 15:05:49

DS1 would never stay asleep if he went to bed before 8:30pm; but he always used to sleep through until around 8am as well. So his routine has always been bed between 8:30 and 9pm and up around 7:30/8am. He still gets 11h - he's 5 and seems to be doing ok cognitively so far.

It's not ideal, I know that but I tried and tried to bring his bedtime forward, and it just didn't work - if he went to bed before 8:30, even if he fell asleep, he'd be awake half an hour later and then not go back to sleep until around 11pm, because he'd lost the edge of tiredness.

DS2 is following a similar pattern but he's only 9mo - regularly falls asleep around 8:30/9pm and that's him for the night (apart from the one feed in the middle).

motherinferior Tue 09-Jul-13 15:22:57

OI Helen, I emailed you grin

I'm not surprised by the research - it backs up pretty well all the other material on sleep (with the Loughborough unit being the big exception, they're big on 'you don't need all that much'): this book is particularly good on the topic. There's also been some really interesting work on sleep and mental health, and how people with severe problems like schizophrenia tend to have messed-up sleeping habits and this is a complex interaction. And work at Warwick University about low sleep and cardiovascular disease.

I get rather alarmed when people post on MN about willingly depriving themselves of sleep.

Bonsoir Tue 09-Jul-13 15:39:41

My DD has always gone to bed late - between 10pm and 11pm. She is 8 and a half, and does very well at school and in all her extra-curricular activities. However, she does need significant time on her own every day - her performance is negatively affected if she has to spend all her time in a group setting/with others.

Ilovemydogandmydoglovesme Tue 09-Jul-13 16:00:59

I definitely agree with getting them off to bed at a decent time. Mine seem to need a good 10-11 hours sleep and so it stands to reason that if they go to bed late they're not going to want to get up in the morning. Then it's rushing and shouting and threatening in the morning to get to school on time, preferably with a vaguely healthy breakfast inside them. It's so much nicer when they get to bed on time, 8pm at the latest, so they're up and raring to go by 7am.

apatchylass Tue 09-Jul-13 16:14:48

The article I read about this in the Guardian today said it wasn't how late the bed time was, but how regular. Lateness made no difference, but set patterns did.

DS2 has never slept well, DS 1 only slightly better. They exist on a good two to three hours less sleep each night than the recommended average for their age, and though they can be sleepy and grumpy, they thrive in top sets at school. They've had a bedtime routine since they were babies, but it made no difference. You can't make them sleep unless you drug them, and my two just never wanted to sleep.

What I wondered about that test was whether (or how) they factored in what comes with lack of bedtime routine. Do families without one tend to be a bit more chaotic or less focused on their children? While our DC were poor sleepers, they did always have a bath, a healthy snack, clean teeth, a bedtime story, cuddles, prayers, lullabies, bedtime chat with mum and dad about their days etc, all of which probably help with development as much as the sleep itself.

sheeplikessleep Tue 09-Jul-13 16:16:38

DS1 (5) and DS2 (3) both go to bed at about 7ish and asleep by 7.30pm.

However, they wake up at 5/5.30am (agh!), so they are shattered, my younger DS especially.

I am sure his tiredness causes more arguments, irritability, inability to concentrate as well (particularly in afternoon).

Be interesting to see if it is tiredness per se or late bedtimes.

anklebitersmum Tue 09-Jul-13 16:32:50

This is no suprise. Children need sleep to function effectively, we do, and they're no different. This includes teenagers in my book too.

My DSS was a different child both academically, physically and emotionally after he moved in with us and our early to bed, eating properly, doing homework regime had a week or so to work.
After a few 'proper' nights sleep you could physically see him straighten up out of the 'sloth-like' stance, he was up in the mornings no problem and was definately less whingy and prone to unexpected outbursts of stroppiness (which he had always been prone wasn't the move btw).

Chaotic households where children 'rule the roost' and essentially have no structure aside, most children need a good 8-10 hours quality kip. I would suggest that it's the rarity rather than the rule for them to genuinely need less than they're being offered iyswim.

LifeIsBetterInFlipFlops Tue 09-Jul-13 16:38:11

I completely agree, a tired child has much less capacity, it effects everything from their temper, tolerance levels and general well being, not to mention learning capability.

I completely agree with it. I know how unable I am to learn, and how badly I performed at work, when I am/was overtired, so why would it be any different for children, who arguably cram in an awful lot more learning and activity into their days?

Sending them to bed is one thing, making them sleep is another matter entirely. Mine all have the same consistent bedtime routine, within 30 mins of eachother. They go up between 7:30 and 8. Dd2(6) will be asleep by 8:15, awake at 7 bright as a button. Dd1 (8) is in bed and will sometimes be asleep by 8:30 but usually nearer 9:30 or 10 or even 11, and emerges around 7:30am. Once in bed she has to stay there but I can't make her fall asleep. They have always been like it, an owl and a lark, ds(3) is an owl too often not asleep until 9, but then wakes in a grump at 6am. By 8 they are all awake and ready to go.

Dd1's teacher was astonished when I mentioned her late nights, she would never have guessed from her work and behaviour -although she has never needed much sleep even as a tiny baby she ate more than she slept. I do feel sorry for children whose parent's lives are chaotic and they don't have a routine, however you can lead a child to bed but you can't make them sleep.

steppemum Tue 09-Jul-13 16:54:51

Actually I heard the woman who ran the study on radio 4 this morning, and she was very specific to point out that the issue was lack of routine, so that the bedtimes varied. It didn't seem to matter so much what time, as long as it was regular.
It lead to poorer tests results at aged 7.
Kids who had poor routine aged 3, 5 and 7 were the worst, if they had a routine at 2 of those ages they did better and so on, so it was an accumulative effect over time

They have no evidence as to why this is, but she speculated that it was to do with body clock, and is a bit like constant jet lag.

I know my kids need regular sleep times, and when we slide, like on holiday, it is very hard to get it back.
Overtired kids can't concentrate.
For some kids though they obviously don't need as many hours, (budding Margaret Thatchers)
I think on the whole most of our pre-teens and teens get less sleep than they really should (including mine)

ouryve Tue 09-Jul-13 16:56:33

Even though it's obvious that insufficient sleep can leave you rather muzzy headed, I wonder if this factored in kids who, for whatever reason, simply don't go to sleep. Lots of children with neurological disorders also struggle to settle to sleep at night - some surviving on 2-3 hours. Many of those have learning disabilities, too, so would skew the results.

WhenSheWasBadSheWasHopeful Tue 09-Jul-13 17:10:48

sending them to bed is one thing you are so right.

Only have one 2 1/2 year old but she has never been a good sleeper, she's in bed for 8pm (lights out) but doesn't sleep till 8.30pm. Wakes between 7 and 7.30am.

I have always worried she is missing out on sleep and may suffer but am not sure i can make her sleep more. Maybe she just needs less sleep than average.

I'm not surprised either. In my personal experience my first two dcs had a regular bed time and regular sleep patterns. They've both needed and thrived on this.

Dc3 however is a different story. He's 4 and he is in bed, lights out at 7.45 everyday. He goes to sleep about 10pm. He wakes up at about 6am everyday. He is also thriving and has been spotted for being academically excellent at his preschool. He is the exception though.

Ds(7)+ goes to bed between 8.45 and 9.15 pm on a school night and up to 10pm at weekends. But that said he doesn't get up until 7.30 am so gets a reasonable amount of sleep.

He is above average academically according to his school so I am happy enough. I appreciate this is by no means evidence to dismiss the study though.

Phantomteadrinker Tue 09-Jul-13 17:48:28

But what about parental engagement too? Most parents work and for me a work day (3 days a week) means getting in at 6.30. So by the time dinner and bath are done its almost 8. Ds1 (5)is in bed by 8.30 but I'd much rather do these things, listen to him read, spend time with him and him be ready to go to bed than insist on an unachievable, stressful 7pm bedtime. I completely agree that its routine that makes children happy and settled at school rather than striving for14 hours sleep.

CatsAndTheirPizza Tue 09-Jul-13 18:07:36

Not remotely surprised by this and would be shocked if anyone was. We have a regular bedtime in the school week and don't move that much from that at week-ends/holidays.

Generally our 6 year old gets 10-11 hours, 9 year old gets 10 hours, 11 year old (has never needed much sleep & can't get off to sleep if he goes to bed too early) gets 8-9 hours.

HappyDoll Tue 09-Jul-13 18:12:55

My thoughts? Well duh! Another 'state the blooming obvious' study.

tallulah Tue 09-Jul-13 18:50:06

My 6 yo goes to bed at 7.30. More often than not she is still awake at 10.30. Last night she came down at 11.

She doesn't have a TV or a screen of any kind in her room; she is read to; and most evenings are identical; yet she will not go to sleep.

This new announcement will give my mother another stick to beat us with sad

But isn't the whole point that it's about routine and predictability, not "your DC doesn't get 10/11/12 hours, therefore you are a bad parent" confused?

My DC need an inordinate, inconvenient amount of sleep. Even with my best efforts to get them to bed as early as possible, they have to be dragged out of bed in the mornings. I know other DC of similar ages who would be bouncing out of bed at 5:30am having gone to bed at the same time.

chocolatemartini Tue 09-Jul-13 19:23:48

Counter argument here I do think it depends on the age of the child. DS is only 19 months and has always had a flexible bed time. He makes up for shorter nights with longer naps sometimes, no harm done. But by school age I can see a consistent bed time is very important

chocolatemartini Tue 09-Jul-13 19:27:49

Well not so much a counter argument as a criticism of the study and how it has been reported. I hate how these 'studies' give people opportunities to criticise other people's parenting tallulah send your mother my link if she brings it up

Happy memories, chocolate. When DS was small and I was briefly unemployed (unintentionally, as opposed to deliberate SAHM) we used to have lovely evenings together because whatever time he went to bed, he would get up 12 hours later. He was as happy with 11pm - 11am as with 7pm - 7am. It's sad in a way that school imposes a different timetable but in reality as soon as we were both working he had some constraints, even though he could nap at nursery.

Sneets Tue 09-Jul-13 19:52:23

Can't say I really agree as depends on child. DS1 age 12, yes it shows on him if it's over a few nights. But DS2 age 7, is one if those who can very sweetly push it to read, talk and generally keep you engaged well past 9:30. We wake him at 7:30am. He is well above average in his end of KS1report this week, and 'a lovely boy' to quote (whilst at school that is blush).
We are all different. So are kids. More research probably needed.

CatsAndTheirPizza Tue 09-Jul-13 20:03:33

Sneets - we are talking averages here - controlled research will have factored in age/individual differences/socio-economic environment etc

Believeitornot Tue 09-Jul-13 20:04:43

People always come along and cite their later sleeping children as proof that the research is wrong. Which fundamentally misunderstands what research is all about.

It's like saying most people don't win the lottery jackpot then someone comes along and says "but I won". That doesn't change the fact that most people don't win <bad analogy>

steppemum Tue 09-Jul-13 20:32:44

The main point of the study said the problem is lack of routine and varied bedtimes, so it really doesn't matter if your dc only needs 8 hours and doesn't go to bed until 11pm, if that is their routine and it is regular

The study was showing that lack of regularity and routine causes a problem and not lack of sleep per se.

As I said up thread, the suggestion (presumably the focus of the next study) is that a movable bedtime disturbs the natural body clock, like jet lag

MNHQ - your OP is misleading, it doesn't reflect the study !

IWillDoItInAMinute Tue 09-Jul-13 20:40:25

This is really interesting as I can totally believe this of my own DC, they need to sleep but I know many Indian parents who keep their DCs up 'til 10pm and they are fine and super bright. Also a Malaysian friends nephews stay up 'til 10.30 they speak fluent mandarin and english and are brilliant at maths confused

IWillDoItInAMinute Tue 09-Jul-13 20:43:06

Thanks for clarifying steppemum !

girliefriend Tue 09-Jul-13 20:59:13

I think its common sense as well, my dd much like me needs a decent amount of sleep (at least 11 hours) to be on top form, anything less than 10 hours and she is very grumpy.

I also think routines are needed so that children feel relaxed and know whats coming/ what to expect. I can imagine if every bedtime was different kids would get very stressed, as would the parents!!

CatsAndTheirPizza Tue 09-Jul-13 21:03:27

But Iwill you have no idea how much better those children would perform if they were to have earlier bedtimes - and your sample size is tiny.

MissBetseyTrotwood Tue 09-Jul-13 21:16:39

Yes, I took that the findings showed that it was the lack of regularity that was a problem too. And that they suspected that the lack of opportunity for circadian rhythms to build was what caused the disruption to development. I don't see how they could have controlled for chaotic family routines; surely a lack of a regular bed time is a chaotic routine?

Both of mine (4 and 6) are in bed by 7.30, with the exact same routine followed every night. Tbh, it is for their benefit and also largely mine. I parent alone a lot of the time and even when DH isn't travelling I do evenings. The bedtime routine lulls us all. I need them to be in bed early so I can clear up and get shipshape for the next day. DS1 doesn't go to sleep immediately; he reads to himself in bed, which is another good habit to get into imo.

I'm pleased this study has been done. I preach about bedtimes my my dds. I am v lucky they both sleep like cats but dd1 is a ratbag drama queen on not enough sleep. I have lectured exh extensively about this.....

I am v strict though about going to bed and I've maintained a routine since dd1 was v little. Kids need to sleep!


<y daughter was great at going to bed till the last few nights. This is mainly as I am s poorly and cannot get upstairs to get on top of it sad

However usually she gets to sleep aaround 8.30, she is 5 and is energetic, active, bright etc so think thios is right for her. But I worry... don;t we all? about foodm sleep etc etc

Agree with it though

It doesn't surprise me at all. I read Marc Weissbluth's book years ago and it's full of similar findings.

Mine are both horrors on not enough sleep, and no matter how late they go to bed, they still wake at the same time everyday. If my routine is chaotic and the bedtime varies everyday, it definitely affects my two kids as well.

I now try and get them to bed by 7.30pm every night without fail. They're 4 & 5 btw if that matters.

In fact my mind is pretty shoddy on no sleep too. My memory goes right out the window on consistent lack of sleep. I'm sure all new Mums remember how tired we felt and how it affected us. I'm sure it's no different for growing kids. We all need sleep. Although there are some people out there who thrive on little, as others say.

Both mine are in School now, one full time, one still in Nursery and their whole day seems to hinge on how well slept they are. Either that or I'm so paranoid about sleep I'm imagining a correlation. I am very retentive about sleep with them grin

TSSDNCOP Tue 09-Jul-13 21:57:46

I have one DC, he is rarely tired to the point of ill temper at bedtime but if his bedtime routine varies he is less attentive and his behaviour is more challenging during the day.

As a consequence, his bedtime is 8pm and he sleeps through generally until at least 7am.

He has a bath, some screen time, milk and a story between 7.20 and 8. He does need to have someone sit in his room or be active nearby until he settles.

Sneets Tue 09-Jul-13 23:03:54

Ha so my 7yr old son getting me to read, chat, generally philosophise about every thing from time travel to angry birds actually is his routine (though it was not put into my agenda!).
I've always tried routine and persisted for 12+ years. My Children often have other ideas! We keep it real.

cory Wed 10-Jul-13 00:07:40

apatchylass Tue 09-Jul-13 16:14:48
"The article I read about this in the Guardian today said it wasn't how late the bed time was, but how regular. Lateness made no difference, but set patterns did."

That's how I read it too. It wasn't about late bedtimes at all but about lack of routine.

Thread title is misleading.

duchesse Wed 10-Jul-13 00:12:03

Indeed, agree the study seemed to be about regularity. Unfortunately imo there are so many variables in the family dynamics that lead to irregular bedtimes, with such a huge variety of factors, that it would be very difficult to work out which ones are at fault.

Remotecontrolduck Wed 10-Jul-13 00:20:08

Very dependent on child I think.

I think the most important thing is to make sure you're able to do right by your own child and understand their needs. No point forcing a child to bed at 7pm when they're resisting and will be up at 5, nor keeping them up til 10 when you know they won't be able to get up. Making sure they have a routine, with a bit of room for flexibility though. I didn't like restrictively strict early bed times for my own DD

British bed times on the whole are a lot earlier than on the continent, yet children are still pretty clever and able to cope. I wonder why this is?

I think this research has it flaws.

Chandon Wed 10-Jul-13 08:47:53

Oh, I can compare a bit.

Having lived in South America where children have no bed times (once they fall asleep in front of the tv, or under the table, they are carried off to bed), yet school starts at 8:30, the kids were all so TIRED and pale and grumpy, and there was a big problem with children falling asleep in the afternoon on their desk.

Definitely did not help their academic achievement, though some kids obviously are fine.

Back in England, a culture of putting kids to bed early, it is soo different. The kids here look healthier too. ( but where we lived kids did not eat fruit and veg either, so all round not such a healthy life style. It was qute normal to go to McD twice a day and the kids were given shedloads of cheap nasty biscuits at school as well)

I am not surprised by the study. I am sure the same goes for adults. Sleep is essential.

Pyrrah Wed 10-Jul-13 10:46:29

I'm not surprised by the study results at all, but there will be individual anomalies.

DD (4) has never needed much sleep. She stopped taking naps during the day by the time she was 9 months old to my horror.

I did wonder if she would take them again when she went to nursery at 2 and all the other kids had one after lunch - nope, she and 2 others just always carried on playing.

Her bedtime is normally around 10pm sometimes later. If I try to put her to bed before then, it either results in 2 hours of fighting it, or she falls asleep and then wakes up 2 hours later and won't sleep until 3-4am. We do have a rule that it's parent's time from 8pm onwards and she needs to play quietly or draw.

Her teachers were amazed she has so little sleep - she is incredibly energetic and never tires - she's also apparently the only reliably cooperative child in the class. She's at school nursery from 9 - 3.15, then afterschool nursery till 6pm, an hour in the park on the way home, and still not in the least bit tired.

My sister has 3 children and her daughter (9) is like mine. After years of fights over bedtime, they now do what we do and she goes to bed around 10.30. She's super-bright and doing exceptionally well at school. Her 2 boys are both in bed and asleep by 7.30.

Bramshott Wed 10-Jul-13 10:49:44

Shock horror, people's brains are clearer if they've had a good night's sleep!

Mind you, I think it's easy to overestimate how much sleep older DCs need. DD1 is 10 and her teacher has a bee in her bonnet about bedtimes and is constantly telling DD that "8.30 is far too late for you to be going to bed". However, DD doesn't get up until 7.30am, so if she goes up at 8.30, or even 9 (we aim for 8.30 in the week) she's still getting a good chunk of sleep.

iseenodust Wed 10-Jul-13 11:07:27

I think as has been said above even the untrained eye can see the difference a shortage of sleep makes to ability to concentrate etc. DS age8 has a bedtime of 8pm and story. DH used to work long shifts incl. nights and the statistics of that for adults are dreadful.

LackaDAISYcal Wed 10-Jul-13 11:13:25

Two of my children have always been ridiculously early risers (around 5am) and their bedtimes are ridiculously early to compensate. DS2, only 4, is asleep by 6.00pm most nights. We have tried letting them stay up later, but no matter what time they are in bed, they are still up at daft o'clock.

DS1 is now 11 and is wanting to stay up later, but after a few nights is just unbearable, though he is generally asleep until 6.30 am these days. He is usually in bed for 8 and lights out at 8.30. If he is tired though, he is very easily distracted and doesn't perform well at all (though he has that going on, regardless of tiredness, most days confused. His tiredness these days is from getting up in the middle of the night and sneaking downstairs to use the X-box angry

DD is the best of all of them, she is 6 and usually sleeps 7 till 7 give or take the odd half hour. She is the best academically, but I think this is more to do with general differences in ability/attitude rather than getting more sleep.

But, each child has a firm time that they are expected to be in bed, and they can read if they want to or don't feel that tired. I think routine and the actual number of hours sleep is probably more important in keeping children focussed and on task than the time that they go to bed though. So, late bedtimes aren't bad as such, and if it's regular and the child gets as much sleep as they need, then there shouldn't be that much of a difference in ability or behaviour imo.

merrymouse Wed 10-Jul-13 12:00:04

If its about bed time routines, and considering that a bed time routine is the norm amoung certain socio-economic groups in this country, I wonder how much it's a chicken and egg situation - lack of a bed time routine is more likely to signify other problems?

I certainly can't think straight when I don't have enough sleep, and I also have a natural inclination to stay up later than I should, so I would say that it is pretty much a no-brainer that we all need a certain amount of sleep, and a bed time routine helps you to wind down and go to sleep at a the most efficient time, however old you are.

I have always been suspicious about Thatcher's 4 hours.

I also think its one thing being a child who naturally needs slightly less sleep than others, it's quite another being a child who needs an average amount of sleep, but isn't encouraged to go to bed.

cory Wed 10-Jul-13 12:21:46

merrymouse Wed 10-Jul-13 12:00:04
"If its about bed time routines, and considering that a bed time routine is the norm amoung certain socio-economic groups in this country, I wonder how much it's a chicken and egg situation - lack of a bed time routine is more likely to signify other problems?"

This is what I am wondering too. I know these researchers always say they control for other factors, but how much can you control for everything else in a family's dynamics?

Not necessarily about socio-economics as such, but I would think it likely that a family that has no bedtime routine at all (as opposed to a family that has a bedtime routine specifically geared to low sleep needs of specific child) might also not have much of a homework routine or healthy eating routine or visiting the library routine- and all those things would be just as likely to influence a child's reading and maths scores.

Whereas a clued up and attentive family, who have noticed that their child does better with a slightly later bedtime might also be clued up and attentive about other needs of the child, such as the need for intellectual stimulation and homework support.

My ds has always had the same bedtime (or even a later bedtime) than his 3yo older sister. This is because she can't function unless she gets a lot of sleep, and he can't go to sleep if he goes to bed too early. It's about being observant and listening to them and finding a solution that works for everybody.

fuzzpig Wed 10-Jul-13 13:08:15

It makes sense to me. Routines are important, they provide predictability and that can make children (subconsciously?) feel safer, knowing that adults are in charge. My DCs really fare better when they know what to expect.

We used to just wing it until DD was about 3 and things really improved once we got a set routine in place (mainly because younger DS finally accepted baths! It had been a total nightmare before this). DD is now 6, DS nearly 4 and we are fairly strict although there is room to be flexible say if there's a special occasion that means we are out later etc. But generally, it's the same bedtime every school night and a little more leeway (up to an hour, but normally not that much) on Fri/Sat night.

EDMNWiganSalfordandBlackpool Wed 10-Jul-13 14:26:41

Makes good sense to me, one of my dc went through a real problem time with sleeping, she was really struggling at school too. We eventually got medication to help her sleep and she went up five sub levels in work in a few weeks,

maja00 Wed 10-Jul-13 15:01:42

Some families who are very attentive and not chaotic generally may choose not to have set bedtimes - choosing to be child-led, encouraging independence or whatever.

We are very attached to bedtimes and proper routines for children generally in this country, but no set bedtime does not necessarily mean chaotic family life.

Wishihadabs Wed 10-Jul-13 15:51:19

I have to say I agree with this study. If the dc are late to bed a couple of nights in a row during the week. General behaviour starts to suffer, if I really crack down for a couple of nights things generally improve. Interestingly Ds at 9 now sometimes recognizes he is tired and takes himself off upstairs. I think I am probably quite strict on bedtime DH less so.....sigh. During the long summer it goes out the window though they do then lie in till 8 or so.

Wishihadabs Wed 10-Jul-13 15:51:51

I have to say I agree with this study. If the dc are late to bed a couple of nights in a row during the week. General behaviour starts to suffer, if I really crack down for a couple of nights things generally improve. Interestingly Ds at 9 now sometimes recognizes he is tired and takes himself off upstairs. I think I am probably quite strict on bedtime DH less so.....sigh. During the long summer it goes out the window though they do then lie in till 8 or so.

RestingUnderTheSun Thu 11-Jul-13 09:02:00

Nothing new here. Children need enough sleep in their day.

I personally would have prefer a study saying that children need x hours of sleep because a child that goes to bed at 8.00pm but gets up at 5.00am is likely to be more tired and grumpy than one that goes at 8.30pm but gets up at 8.00am.

The issue here is the acceptance from adults and children that lack of sleep is having some effect on the body and your performance.
but when a parent is happy to say they can function well with only 5 hours of sleep a night, I would imagine they would be more likely to say that it's OK too for their child to need 'little' sleep even if they actually do

JakeBullet Thu 11-Jul-13 09:05:35

I agree with this study, my son is autistic with ADHD and struggles with sleep. we have got there with the aid of Melatonin but even with this he doe not fall asleep until 11pm most nights and beyond on very bad nights.

I know he does MUCH better during the day when he has had more sleep.

He has a routine bedtime, into bed by 9pm (late but no point any earlier as he just does not settle), no screen time in the three hours before bed but he can use his Lego etc.

bruffin Thu 11-Jul-13 09:15:42

You can put them to bed but you cant make them sleep.
My DD went through stages when she was 6 and then again 10/11 when even though she was in bed wouldnt fall a sleep until 12 or so. No tv or computers in the room, she just couldnt sleep, but then struggled to get up in the morning.
My ds was the opposite, until the dreaded teen years hit him would go to bed happily between 8 and 9 but then would wake up at some ridiculous hour in the morning and would be tired.

I was also a non sleeper as a child and even now I sometimes have to go without sleep one night to get a run of good nights sleep.

zipzap Thu 11-Jul-13 14:39:18

The problem I have with this - looking at the abstract in haste - is that it seems to think that 'regular' bedtimes equate to 'early' bedtimes.

I have two ds, ds2 has never gone to sleep early, even as a baby he never went to sleep after his 7pm feed, whereas ds1 did.

Even now, ds2 tends to go to sleep later than ds1. He is good at recognising when he is tired and happy to climb into bed at that point. He has a regular bedtime, he has his bath, story, toothbrushing etc routine - but it's later in the evening than for most children of 5 years old I'm guessing (typically upstairs at 8pm, he'll be in bed by 9 and he'll usually fall asleep between 9 and 11 at some point).

But the abstract starts by talking about early bedtimes - and then goes on to talk about the effects of having a regular - or not - bedtime. DS2 can actually end up worse off if he does have a night when he goes to sleep early (ie irregular from his normal late but regular time) as it throws him off kilter in the morning, he wakes up too early and tired and he's out of sync for the rest of the next day.

It would also be interesting to see what time of day the children were tested on for their maths and english etc scores. I'm not a morning person - and wouldn't do very well on a test first thing in the morning. Give it to me later on though and I'd fly through it no problem. DH is the opposite - he'd do really well in the morning - give it to him at 6 in the evening and he'd struggle as he's really tired at that point. If you are testing all the children at the same time of day then it stands to reason that if some children are owls and others are larks as for adults, then they have different times of the day when they are at their peak mentally.

If you always test at a good time for larks then chances are the owls might not be at their peak and therefore their scores lower. But if you test at a different time of day then you might find the scores differ. You certainly shouldn't be hypothesizing that one group is better than the other without checking for the testing time factor - it's a bit like the old psychology experiments that 'showed' that children in Africa were 'less intelligent' than their european counterparts when the same IQ tests were used. But actually all it was doing was showing that the experimenters were the ones with a problem - the tests had a huge cultural bias - when the tests were re-designed around what the subjects actually knew (eg - if you had to split up apples, pears, lemons and oranges into two groups then most european kids could do it as they are familiar with all the fruit. If you've only ever eaten peaches, mangoes and melons, then apples, pears, lemons and oranges all fall into the 'fruit I don't know' category - and the european kids would have just the same problems categorising peaches, mangoes and melons. It's not measuring intelligence but knowledge. (if the details of this are slightly wrong then it's because it's over 20 years since I studied it and I can't remember the specifics - however the general implications are right).

It also seems to be equating bed times to amount of sleep you get in hours, which again, particularly for younger children who might not have to get up for a school run - not necessarily follow that just because you go to sleep late you get less sleep. It also doesn't mention anything to do with whether or not the child wakes up naturally themself or whether they need to be woken up. My ds2 who goes to sleep late is also the first of the household to wake up most of the time - whereas ds1 who has gone to sleep earlier often needs to be woken up, even though he has had more sleep.

Basically - I think there are huge number of holes in the study that suggests they either have not thought about the problem and gathered the data in enough detail to analyse it fully, and that they knew what outcome they wanted so they just (implicitly or explicitly) got enough data to prove what they wanted to prove. Or they have written it up very badly if they have looked at the data and have been able to take more factors into account other than early/regular bedtimes. Oh and it's very sloppy of them to equate early bedtimes with regular bedtimes without explaining what they mean by both terms as they are completely different things!

HelenMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 12-Jul-13 13:02:33


apatchylass Tue 09-Jul-13 16:14:48
"The article I read about this in the Guardian today said it wasn't how late the bed time was, but how regular. Lateness made no difference, but set patterns did."

That's how I read it too. It wasn't about late bedtimes at all but about lack of routine.

Thread title is misleading.

You are absolutely right, cory. We misread the BMJ press release. We have amended the thread title and our opening post to make it clear that the findings related to irregular bedtimes, rather than specifically to late bedtimes.

Our apologies; that was a sloppy error on our part.

This isn't new research though is it? I've got a book that goes through various patenting studies in detail and I'm sure this was dating from the 1970s or 80s. It's just logical. I know how slow and tetchy I get when I'm sleep deprived so it's no wonder children really suffer when they miss out on sleep and a regular bed time is one of the best ways of ensuring enough sleep for then.

Parenting studies even.

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