Regular bedtimes improve behavior in kids

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

A British study published this month in Pediatrics confirmed what Grandmas have been saying: regular bedtimes can help children behave.

Researchers followed a cohort of 10,230 children born in 2000-2002, performing structured interviews at home visits by study nurses every few years through age 7. They asked about bedtime routines—what time the children went to bed, and whether that was a fairly regular time, or whether the time varied on different days. Validated questionnaires were also administered to help determine if behavioral problems were present, including questions about conduct problems, emotional difficulties, and trouble with peer relationships.

It turns out that the exact bedtime, itself, didn’t matter very much. Earlier bedtimes had a very mild and inconsistent effect of overall behavior. However, what did matter was how consistent the bedtimes were. More consistency across the years of the interviews was correlated with better behavior, and there was even a dose effect. The more years of irregular bedtimes, the worse the behavior seemed to be.

Now, there may be some reverse causality here—perhaps the ill-behaved children ended up with irregular bedtimes because their parents couldn’t get them to bed, instead of the other way around. But another observation from this study strengthens the case for a causal relationship: over time, if bedtimes become more regular, behavior does improve.

Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise. But if you want a well-behaved child, it may be more important to have a regular bedtime than an early bedtime.

Score another one for Grandma!

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2 Comments on “Regular bedtimes improve behavior in kids”

  1. Mindy Says:

    I’m glad you added that last part about reverse causality. Before I read that part I was wondering if, perhaps, parents that don’t give their kids regular bedtimes are the same kind of parents that might make other choices that results in poorer behavior of their kids. So not really reverse causality but your answer serves to answer my question as well.


  2. Stephanie Says:

    I can’t get a copy of the full text article, so I have some questions about this study:

    1. How regular is regular? Should the bedtime be within a 30 min window, a 1 hr window?

    2. Although I agree with the common sense regarding sleep hygiene, kids (particularly 3 or 4 years old) often have fluctuating sleep needs. They might nap some days, not others. They might need more sleep during or after the acute phase of an illness (and they are sick more often as preschoolers). If they seem tired or cranky, it seems wise to put them to bed earlier. I have heard it said that it is more important to watch the child than to watch the clock. How much weight should a parent give the notion of a “regular” bedtime, while trying to balance fluctuating sleep needs? (At our house, the bedtime has always been within a 1hr range – 6-7pm).


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