Sometimes for a parent of a preschooler, it seems like bedtime cannot come soon enough, especially after a particularly challenging day. But while an early bedtime for young children may mean a break for harried parents, it can also have a positive impact on children’s health, even years later.
In a recent article published in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers Anderson, Andridge and Whitaker studied over 900 children between the ages of 3 and 5 years as part of a large national long-term study, Early Child Care and Youth Development. They found that about a quarter of the children had average bedtimes after 9pm as reported by parents, while another 25% had bedtimes before 8pm. When re-examined at around age 15 years, height and weight were measured in these same children and compared to age and gender-specific norms. The teens with late bedtimes as preschoolers were more than twice as likely to be obese compared to those with an early bedtime, even after accounting for known obesity-related factors such as birthweight and mother’s weight. The rate of obesity for the “intermediate bedtime” group (16%) was between that of the early and late bedtime groups (10% and 23% respectively).
These results add to an expanding literature that links poor sleep habits such as late bedtimes to poor outcomes in children, including obesity, behavioral problems and other sleep problems such as night wakings and insufficient sleep. Clearly the majority of young children with late bedtimes do not become obese and some children with difficulty falling asleep may actually benefit from a temporary later bedtime. In the end, though, this study emphasizes the importance of establishing healthy sleep habits at an early age as a key ingredient in the recipe for lifelong health and well-being.
Judith Owens, MD, and the “Dream Team” of sleep specialists in the Pediatric Sleep Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital are ready to help solve your infant, child or teen’s sleep problems ranging from bedtime struggles, difficulties falling and staying asleep, sleepwalking sleep terrors, snoring/other breathing issues at night, and even daytime sleepiness. We have clinics in Boston, Waltham, Peabody, Lexington, North Dartmouth and Weymouth.
For questions or to make an appointment, please call 781-216-2570.
Learn more about the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center.