Children's attempts to delay bedtime become the stuff of folklore at times. But staying firm about a consistent bedtime can be important.
A recent study found that having a regular bedtime can make a difference in a child's daily behavior.
The researchers found that children with non-regular bedtimes had worse behavior problems.
However, when children went from not having a regular bedtime to having a regular bedtime, their behavior improved.
The study focused on children from ages 3 to 7.
The study, led by Yvonne Kelly, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London in England, aimed to find out whether kids' behavior was related to their bedtimes.
The researchers gathered information about children's bedtimes and sleeping habits from 10,230 children's parents when the children were 3, 5 and 7 years old.
Then the researchers compared this data to the children's behavior at age 7, based on questionnaires given to the children's mothers and teachers.
The researchers found that children without regular bedtimes had more behavioral problems than children who had grown up with a consistent bedtime.
In fact, the less consistent a child's bedtime was over their young life, the greater their behavioral problems were.
The children who did not have a regular bedtime at two of those ages (3, 5 or 7) had twice as much of an association with poor behavior as children who didn't have a regular bedtime at one of those ages.
The children who had non-regular bedtimes at all three ages were twice as likely to show behavioral problems as the children with irregular bedtimes at two of those ages.
"For children who changed from regular to non-regular bedtimes between ages 5 and 7 there was a statistically significant worsening in scores," the researchers wrote.
When the researchers closely analyzed these results, they determined that the greater behavioral problems among children with irregular bedtimes were not the result of chance.
The researchers had also taken into account other factors that might affect children's behavior, including the child's age, sex, the mother's age, the child's birth order, family income, parent education and employment, mother's psychological state, discipline strategies used in the home and conflict in the home.
The researchers also considered whether the child had been breastfed, skips breakfast, receives help on schoolwork at home, attends additional child care, has rules about watching TV, wets the bed, has sleep problems from wheezing or has a TV in their bedroom.
Finally, they factored in how much time the child spends watching TV and on the computer.
The researchers concluded that having regular bedtimes in early childhood is important in affecting children's behavior.
In fact, children who went from having an irregular bedtime to having a regular bedtime at an older age saw improvements in their behavioral scores.
"There are clear opportunities for interventions aimed at supporting family routines that could have important impacts on health throughout life," the researchers wrote.
William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida, said this study's finding confirm what past research has shown.
"The take-home message is that sleep problems cause significant changes not only with a child's medical health, potentially, but also with their emotional and cognitive health," Dr. Kohler said."Sleep problems need to be evaluated and treated, and many of them are preventable and correctable."
He said the article revealed the "dose-related effects" of a non-regular bedtime for children.
"The more irregular the bedtimes, the more the behavioral difficulties," Dr. Kohler said. "It was also very clear that improving the schedule improved the behavior."
The study was published October 14 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.