Bedtime battles are the old saw of parenting, and sometimes, it just seems more sanity-saving to surrender to the will of your toddler and let them conk out whenever and wherever. But studies say it’s best to stick your guns—for the long-term benefit to both you and your child.
According to a UK study analysing the bedtime routines of 10,000 kids—aged between 3 and 7 years—those with shaky bed timings exhibited more behavioural issues than those whose routine was more clock-bound.
20% of the participants’ parents admitted their child had no definitive lights-out time, and the correlative effect showed: those children without a consistent bedtime score higher in “unhappiness, being inconsiderate and fighting”—scoring coming from both parental and school teacher reports.
The study’s lead researcher, Yvonne Kelly, describes the cumulative negative effect of inconsistent bedtimes as “social jet lag”—regardless of whether the same amount of hours’ sleep are being clocked up.
“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,” says Kelly.
The upside to the findings is that this type of social functioning fallout can be remedied: by implementing fixed bedtimes, behaviour became markedly improved in the participants.
“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,” explains Kelly.
The above research is backed up by a more recent study in 2017, showing that poor observance of bedtime routines also has an impact on risk for obesity, self-esteem problems, and, more expectedly, academic performance.
The takeaway from both? Bedtimes for small humans are tough by design, but it’s better to stick with them for happiness that lasts longer than a stress-free Friday evening.