Scientists have long known that children who don't get enough sleep may be at an increased risk of obesity, among other health concerns, but a new study suggests that having a late bedtime is linked to a greater obesity risk later in life, too. So, an early bedtime may be better.
"This study adds to a body of research that demonstrates that young children benefit from having a regular bedtime and bedtime routine," said Sarah Anderson, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University's College of Public Health and lead author of the study.
How bedtime may be linked to obesity
For the study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics last month, researchers analyzed data on 977 children who were part of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
The data, which tracked the children from preschool-age to adolescence, indicated at what time they went to bed when they were about 4 years old, as well as their height, weight and body mass index when they were about 15 years old.
"An early bedtime, per se, will not necessarily affect a child's physical health or mood and mental health in a positive way. The goal should be, choose an age-appropriate bedtime that allows the individual child to get the hours of sleep the child needs," he said.
"Set an appropriate bedtime based upon the amount of sleep your child needs to be functional and effective during the day. Then, be consistent with it, even on weekends," he added. "Sleep is just as important to human life as eating and breathing. We spend almost a third of our lives sleeping."
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine released updated sleep guidelines for children in June, recommending that:
- Babies 4 months to 12 months should get 12 to 16 hours
- Children 1 to 2 years old should get 11 to 14 hours
- Children 3 to 5 years old should get 10 to 13 hours
- Children 6 to 12 years old should get nine to 12 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years old should get eight to 10 hours
Roughly, infants should sleep by 7 p.m., toddlers by 7:30 p.m., younger children by 8 p.m., preteens by 8:30 p.m. and teens between 9 and 10:30 p.m., said Harriet Hiscock, associate professor at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Australia.
"There is no hard and fast rule for this, as sleep quality is probably more important than sleep duration, at least in children," she added. "A regular bedtime and bedtime routine are probably more important."
To get your child to go to sleep, Gruber advises, don't negotiate bedtime.
"Bedtime is not optional, and just as parents should not negotiate whether a child has to brush his or her teeth, they should not negotiate bedtime," she said.
"With younger children, create a pleasant and calm bedtime routine that involves bath and story time," she added. "With older children who go to bed more independently, set a time in which they have to start their bedtime routine and a time when lights are off for the night. ... For children of all age, make sure to remove electronic devices from the bedroom in advance of the bedtime. Children and adolescents cannot be expected to manage this themselves, and parental involvement is mandatory."