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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?

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.

NotGoodNotBad Tue 09-Jul-13 13:44:46

*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.

SauceForTheGander Tue 09-Jul-13 14:02:48

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.

stealthsquiggle Tue 09-Jul-13 14:22:14

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.

MimsyBorogroves Tue 09-Jul-13 16:40:20

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?

3birthdaybunnies Tue 09-Jul-13 16:53:36

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.

TheOneWithTheHair Tue 09-Jul-13 17:34:44

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.

fanoftheinvisibleman Tue 09-Jul-13 17:34:58

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.

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