Irregular Bedtimes Could Be Damaging Children’s Health

What happens in the early years of a person’s life has a profound effect on how they fare later on. Thousands of research papers – many of them using the rich data in the British Birth Cohort studies – have shown that children who get a poor start in life are much more likely to experience difficulties as adults; whether that’s to do with poor health, or their ability to enjoy work and family life.

Ensuring that children get enough sleep is one of a number of ways to get them off to the best possible start in life. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that toddlers should get roughly 11 to 14 hours of sleep every day. For children aged three to five years, the recommendation is ten to 13 hours, or nine to 11 hours for children once they’re at primary school.

But the latest research carried out by our team at UCL’s International Centre for Lifecourse Studies, shows that it’s not just the amount of sleep a child gets which matters. After digging into the data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) – which has followed the lives of some 20,000 children since the turn of the century – we found that having a regular bedtime also affects how they get on at home and at school, throughout the first decade of their lives.

The ‘jet lag’ effect:

To begin with, we looked at the relationship between regular and irregular bedtimes, and how the children got on in a range of cognitive tests. Parents who took part in the MCS were asked whether their children went to bed at a regular time on weekdays. Those who answered “always” or “usually” were put in the regular bedtime group, while those who answered “sometimes” or “never” were put in the irregular bedtime group.

The results were striking. Children with irregular bedtimes had lower scores on maths, reading and spatial awareness tests. In fact, the time that children went to bed had little or no effect on their basic number skills, or their ability to work with shapes. But having no set bedtime was linked to lower scores, especially for three-year-olds. The greatest dip in test results was seen in girls who had no set bedtime at their early life.

At the heart of this phenomenon is the circadian rhythm – the internal body clock, which tells you when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

If I travel from London to New York, I’m likely to be slightly ragged when I arrive, because jet lag is going to affect my cognitive abilities, appetite and emotions. If I bring one of my children with me, and I want them to do well at a maths test having just jumped across time zones, they will struggle even more than I will. If we think of the body is an instrument, then a child’s body is more prone to getting out of tune.

The same thing happens when children go to bed at 8pm one night, 10pm the next and 7pm another . Scientists sometimes call this the “social jet lag effect”. 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.

Best behavior:

As well as enhancing a child’s intellectual development, we found that regular bedtimes can also improve their behaviour.

At age seven, according to parents and teachers, children in the MCS who had irregular bedtimes were considerably more likely to have behavioural problems than their peers who had a regular bedtime. The more frequently a child had been able to go to bed at different times each night, the worse his or her behavioural problems were. In other words, the effects appeared to accumulate throughout childhood.

But we did find an important piece of good news,too: those negative effects on behaviour appeared to be reversible. Children who switched to having a regular bedtime showed improvements in their behaviour. 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.

But of course, the reverse was also true: the behaviour of children who switched from a regular to an irregular bedtime got worse.

A weighty problem:

In a follow-up study, which looked at the impact of routines (including bedtimes) on obesity, we reported that children with irregular bedtimes were more likely to be overweight, and have lower self-esteem and satisfaction with their bodies.

In fact, of all the routines we studied, an inconsistent bedtime was most strongly associated with the risk of obesity. This supports other recent findings, which show that young children who skipped breakfast and went to bed at irregular times were more likely to be obese at age 11. Even children who “usually” had a regular bedtime were 20% more likely to be obese than those who “always” went to bed at around the same time.

Clearly, the evidence shows that a regular bedtime really matters when it comes to children’s health and development, throughout that crucial first decade of their lives. Including these findings alongside recommended hours of sleep in advice for all those caring for young children could make a real difference, by helping protect children from “social jet lag” and getting them off to a flying start instead.

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This Popular Sleep Aid May Be Harmful to Kids

There’s no quick fix that gets kids to sleep sooner, better, deeper. But melatonin comes pretty close.While medical experts don’t have much bad to say to adults about using melatonin, which isn’t a pharmaceutical rather a health supplement, some are concerned when it comes to regular use in children.

A recent New York Times Well blog post reported that while a lot of parents have given melatonin for their kids because it works—doctors don’t actually know whether it’s doing harm in the long run. Children’s brains are still growing and developing, and melatonin is a synthetic form of a hormone the pineal gland produces, and which signals to the brain it’s time for sleep.

“I think we just don’t know what the potential long-term effects are, particularly when you’re talking about young children,” said Dr. Judith Owens, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Parents really need to understand that there are potential risks.”

Research isn’t conclusive but some suggests that it could have effects not just on the brain but on other systems developing in children: reproductive, cardiovascular, immune and metabolic.

Melatonin has known possible side effects for adults, including “headaches, dizziness and daytime grogginess,” the Times reports. That last one is what makes it a sleep aid and also dangerous for drivers who might use it. The hormone-like substance, which is also found in foods like barley and walnuts, can also interfere with medications for blood pressure and diabetes.

When researchers looked into consistency across melatonin products, they found that 71 percent of their samples were at least 10 percent off from the written dose.

Doctors who treat sleep disorders in children have long known parents turn frequently turn to melatonin to help their kids with sleep issues, often picking up the pills at a health food store and not telling their own doctors—a mistake.

“I rarely see a family come in with a child with insomnia who hasn’t tried melatonin,” Owns said. “I would say at least 75 percent of the time when they come in to see us” at the sleep clinic, “they’re either on melatonin or they’ve tried it in the past.”

For those who give it to their children, Owens recommends letting their child’s doctor know. She also said the pills should be picked up from a reputable source. Because they’re not regulated by the Food and Drug Adminstration, there’s no way of know how much of the useful ingredient is in each pill. Buy “pharmaceutical grade,” which tend to have “more precise dosing levels.”

When researchers looked into consistency across melatonin products, they found that 71 percent of their samples were at least 10 percent off from the written dose. In fact—and this is where parents, particularly, should be cautious—some contained nearly 5 times the dosage written on the label.

So while there’s still no silver bullet for kids and sleep—except for lots of exercise, predictable nighttime routines and early (yes, early!) bedtimes—the melatonin temptation should be met with caution and some medical support.

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Sleep-Deprived Parents Are Paying Over $300 for This Doll


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Parents all over the world are clamoring for the Lulla doll developed by researchers in Iceland to help newborns sleep better. Hypoallergenic and machine-washable, this doll pretty much has it all. With the exception of taste, the Lulla Doll utilizes a baby’s four other senses to help comfort and drift off to sleep, something new parents are desperate for.

By pressing on the chest, the doll can mimic a mother’s breathing and heartbeat. The face was designed to be gender and race neutral and apparently is supposed to be more visually appealing for a baby rather than a stuffed animal. It absorbs scent easily, so parents can hold it against their skin and then pass on the doll to their baby, who can then snuggle up to it, and feel as if they were actually sleeping next to Mom or Dad.

What an amazing product, right? There’s just one catch: The doll retails for around $70. Due to the insane popularity however, the manufacturer cannot keep up with demand and parents are heading to third-party sites like Eba y and paying more than $300.

Babies are little jerks when it comes to sleep. And a lack of sleep makes for cranky babies and exhausted parents.

For the parents with gobs of money, sure, by all means pre-order the Lulla Doll. Bid to your heart’s content. But for the rest of us, spending this much on a doll instead of diapers and food is just impractical. I get it; babies are little jerks when it comes to sleep. And a lack of sleep makes for cranky babies and exhausted parents. But there are other ways to soothe a baby and mimic the closeness of a parent for a fraction of the cost.

A white noise machine can be purchased for around $20. I used it and It simulated the noises of babies heard in the womb and there’s even a mode that mimics a heartbeat.

You can hold a little security blanket against your skin for a while and then place it next to your baby. It’s soft and comforting and it may not have a human face but let’s be honest, does a baby really pay attention to that?

And whatever happened to a little old-fashioned rocking? I get it—we can’t be there all night to sit up in a rocker, but some of my most calming moments in those early days occurred while rhythmically swaying back and forth in the darkness, holding my sleepy baby in my arms, by the way I still using mine for short periods of time but still a valuable item for me.

Whether you co-sleep with your baby or sleep train on a schedule, eventually your child will sleep, with or without said creepy doll. Contrary to what this doll claims to do, there is no magical cure to get a baby to sleep. But desperate parents will try anything and I guess if it doesn’t work, you could always sell it on Ebay, right? Some information from by

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