Sometimes the bedtime battle can make a mama feel like it would be easier to just let the kids fall asleep whenever they want, but there are huge benefits to a consistent bedtime routine, and one big drawback to letting kids head to bed whenever.
A study out of the UK looked at the bedtime habits of 10,000 kids when they were between 3 and 7 years old and found that kids with non-regular bedtimes had more behavioral difficulties than those with a predictable bedtime routine.
The study was published in 2013 in the journal Pediatrics, and found that about 20% of parents said their 3-year-old did not have a consistent bedtime. The researchers found that kids who did not have a set bedtime scored higher when it comes to things like unhappiness, being inconsiderate and fighting. Those scores came not only from parent reports, but also from teachers of school-age kids, who rated the behavior of kids without regular bedtimes as more problematic.
According to the study's lead researcher, Yvonne Kelly, putting kids to bed at 8 o'clock one night and 10 o'clock the next results in a kind of "social jet lag," even if they're getting the same hours of sleep
"Without ever getting on a plane, a child's bodily systems get shuffled through different time zones, and their circadian rhythms and hormonal systems take a hit as a result," Kelly explains in a 2017 article she authored for The Conversation.
In that article she explains that her team "did find an important piece of good news, too: those negative effects on behavior appeared to be reversible."
When kids in the study switched from having irregular bedtimes to having a regular bedtime there were measurable improvements in their behavior. "This shows that it's never too late to help children back onto a positive path, and a small change could make a big difference to how well they get on," she explains.
In a follow-up study published in 2017 the researchers found that irregular bedtimes don't just impact behavior, but can also put kids at risk for obesity and low-self esteem, and tank their math scores. Regular bedtimes, on the other hand, can have a positive impact on a kid's development, health and behavior.
So the next time you're tempted to let bedtime slide, remember that by being strict with bedtime you're not only protecting your own sleep and self-care time, but also protecting your child's circadian rhythms and happy tomorrow.