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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?

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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.

CakesAreNotTheAnswer Sun 14-Jul-13 16:49:10

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.

CakesAreNotTheAnswer Sun 14-Jul-13 16:49:21

Parenting studies even.

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