Going to bed at irregular times can affect young children’s intellectual performance, a study has shown.
The long-term study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at whether reading, maths and spatial awareness were affected by the time a child went to bed and how regular the bedtime was.
Because of the importance of early childhood development on health later in life, there may be knock on events later on, the authors suggest.
Professor Amanda Sacker, lead author said: “Early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing across the life course.
“Therefore, reduced or disrupted sleep, especially if it occurs at key times in development, could have important impacts on health throughout life.”
Irregular bedtimes were most common at the age of three, when around one in five children went to bed at varying times. By the age of seven, more than half the children went to bed regularly between 7.30 and 8.30 pm.
Children whose bedtimes were irregular or who went to bed after 9 pm came from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds, the findings showed.
Irregular bedtimes by the age of five were not associated with poorer brain power in girls or boys at the age of seven.
But irregular bedtimes at three years of age were associated with lower scores in reading, maths, and spatial awareness in both boys and girls, suggesting that around the age of three could be a sensitive period for cognitive development.
The authors point out that irregular bedtimes could disrupt natural body rhythms and cause sleep deprivation, so undermining the plasticity of the brain and the ability to acquire and retain information.