Days out happen, parties happen, holidays happen, the weekend’s come around fast and with all of this later bedtimes happen. This is normal and really is it a big deal? A later bedtime here and there is really not going to make much difference to your child aside of perhaps a tired grumpier child the next day because let’s not forget a later bedtime does not necessarily mean a later wake up so they will be short on hours of sleep. Remember the circadian rhythm is set to wake at the same time every day. But what happens if these late and irregular bedtimes happen more often or every day? You may be that family who are very relaxed when it comes to bed times and some days your child has an early night and other nights they are staying up to have dinner with you and watch a movie. Lets dive into this deeper and I can explain the consequences that you may encounter on irregular betimes.
Of course, staying up later, this means your child may not be getting enough sleep. Let’s take a 2 year old child for example. They need approximately 12-14 hours of sleep within a 24 hour period. Now if they are waking at 7am every day after a 12 hour night then they are hitting that ball park of sleep quota, but if they go to bed at 10pm some nights and still wake at 7 am they will be missing out on 3 hours of sleep. You may think that’s ok, she can have 3 hour nap in the day to make up for this, but, your child may not take a 3 hour nap and if they do it will very probably impact on night sleep. They may sleep even less. Or wake early the next day…This then impacts on bedtime again and there we have this pattern of irregular bedtimes occurring. The Result An overtired child with a circadian rhythm completely out of whack. You may experience a change in their behaviour, more tantrums from your over tired toddler and see they have less interest in playing and concentration. Their appetite will start to be irregular as those hunger hormones kick in telling the body it is needing more food when really they don’t. Obesity sets in. In school aged children this can be detrimental on their school work and concentration during class. There have been many studies on this, for example, Yvonne Kelly, PhD; John Kelly, BEng; Amanda Sacker, PhD from The university College of London released a paper that gathered findings on this subject. They found that children between the age of 3 and 7 years with irregular bedtimes displayed more behavioural difficulties and increased aggression. Of course this goes hand in hand with the fact behaviour can also impact on sleep so in some cases this meant the irregular bedtimes were not a social thing.
We must also take note that an over tired child is more prone to night terrors, obesity as I previously mentioned and low self-esteem.
Getting some rhythm and routine into your child’s evenings and having a consistent bedtime will have positive results.
It is never too late to get on track and start having those consistent bedtimes. I am not saying every child needs to go to bed at 7pm, bedtimes do vary depending on age of the child and also cultures around the world. What I am saying is irregular bedtimes will impact in a negative nature so ponder upon that it can be resolved!
Peacefully nights to you all,
Your Paediatric Sleep Consultant