New Study Shows Why You Should Get the Kids to Bed on Time – WSJ.com

Going to bed at the same time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, a recent study found.

Researchers at University College London found that when 3-year-olds have a regular bedtime they perform better on cognitive tests administered at age 7 than children whose bedtimes weren’t consistent. The findings represent a new twist on an expanding body of research showing that inadequate sleep in children and adolescents hurts academic performance and overall health.

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Izhar Cohen

The latest study considered other factors that can influence bedtime and cognitive development, such as kids skipping breakfast or having a television in their bedroom. After accounting for these, the study found that going to bed very early or very late didn’t affect cognitive performance, so long as the bedtime was consistent.

“The surprising thing was the later bedtimes weren’t significantly affecting children’s test scores once we took other factors into account,” said Amanda Sacker, director of the International Center for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at University College London and a co-author of the study. “I think the message for parents is…maybe a regular bedtime even slightly later is advisable.”

The researchers suggested that having inconsistent bedtimes may hurt a child’s cognitive development by disrupting circadian rhythms. It also might result in sleep deprivation and therefore affect brain plasticity—changes in the synapses and neural pathways—at critical ages of brain development.

Sleep experts often focus largely on how much sleep children get. While that is important, “we tend to not pay as much attention to this issue of circadian disruption,” said Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t involved with the study.

Insufficient sleep and irregular bedtimes may each affect cognitive development through different mechanisms, Dr. Owens said. “The kid who has both [problems] may beat even higher risk for these cognitive impairments,” she said.

The study, published online in July in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, examined data on bedtimes and cognitive scores for 11,178 children.

The children were participants in the U.K.’s Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative longterm study of infants born between 2000 and 2002.

Mothers were asked about their children’s bedtimes at 3, 5 and 7 years of age. Nearly 20% of the 3-year-olds didn’t have a regular bedtime. That figure dropped to 9.1% at age 5 and 8.2% at age 7. Mothers were also asked about socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and family routines.

When the children were 7 years old, they received cognitive assessments in reading, math and spatial abilities. The poorest test scores were recorded by children who went to bed very early or very late, and by those who had inconsistent bedtimes, said Dr. Sacker. But once other factors in the home were taken into account only the inconsistent bedtime was associated with lower scores, she said.

A consistent pattern of sleep behavior mattered. “Those who had irregular bedtimes at all three ages had significantly poorer scores than those who had regular bedtimes,” Dr. Sacker said. This was especially true for girls who didn’t establish consistent bedtimes between 3 and 7 years old.

Yvonne Kelly, a co-author of the study and a professor in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said the researchers aren’t sure why girls seemed to be more affected. She noted that the difference in scores between these groups of girls and boys wasn’t statistically significant for the reading and spatial tests, but it was for the math test.

“I don’t think for one moment that boys are immune to these things and girls are more affected,” Dr. Kelly said.

The researchers didn’t have data on the total number of hours children slept overnight because mothers weren’t asked about what time the children woke up.

In general school-age kids—kindergarten through eighth-grade—should be getting about 10 hours of sleep, while 3- and 4-year-olds might need 11 to 13 hours, including day-time naps, said Shalini Paruthi, director of the pediatric sleep and research center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center at Saint Louis University.

Dr. Paruthi said the good news from the study is that the majority of the children went to bed at a consistent time, reinforcing advice from sleep specialists. “The younger the child is, the better it is to get into the habit of a regular bedtime,” said Dr. Paruthi, who wasn’t affiliated with the study. She recommends a 15-minute, pre-bedtime routine to help the brain transition from a more alert to a quiet state.

And in order to keep the body’s internal clock in sync with the brain, bedtimes on weekends and in the summer should only stray from the normal time by an hour or less, Dr. Paruthi said. “The internal clock in the brain and the body like to have consistency every day,” she said.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at sumathi.reddy

KS

Steps for More, and Better, Sleep – NYTimes.com

By JANE E. BRODY

Christopher Silas Neal

I regret that for most of my adult life, I treated sleep as more a luxury than a necessity. There was always something more to do before I crawled under the covers and turned out the light. I realize belatedly that I might have been more productive — and a lot nicer to live with — if I had given sleep its proper due.

By failing to acknowledge chronic sleep deprivation, I dozed during countless cultural events, and on two occasions I fell asleep while driving, barely escaping disaster. I have since reordered my priorities and learned to avoid distractions and activities that can keep me from getting the sleep my body and mind really need.

About 70 million Americans sleep poorly or not nearly long enough to achieve the full physical, emotional and cognitive benefits sleep can bestow. There are myriad reasons, ranging from self-inflicted disruptions to those that are seemingly unavoidable. But there are also potential solutions to most of the factors that can interfere with sleep. For the sake of your health and longevity, I urge you to give them a try.

How much sleep do you need? Sleep requirements depend on age. Newborns sleep 16 to 18 hours a day, preschoolers need 11 to 12 hours, and elementary school children need 10 hours. Adolescents should get 9 to 10 hours, though most teenagers sleep only about seven hours.

Given the opportunity to sleep as long as they want, most adults average about eight hours a night. There are individual differences, of course, but the usual range is between seven and nine hours. Getting less than the amount of sleep you need during the school or workweek builds up a sleep debt that cannot be fully erased by “sleeping in” on the weekend. This pattern can also mess up your biological clock, making it hard to get up on Monday morning.

It was long ago shown that a midafternoon nap of about 20 minutes can improve alertness and productivity and reduce mistakes among sleep-deprived workers, yet few employers offer a midday lie-down or provide a place for one.

Age also affects the quality of sleep and the amount of time spent in the various stages of sleep. These include REM, or rapid-eye-movement sleep (often called dream sleep), and three types of non-REM sleep: the light sleep of Stage 1, followed by the more relaxed sleep of Stage 2 and the most restorative deep sleep of Stage 3.

Young children spend most of the night in deep sleep, which is why they can often sleep through loud noise, bright light and being carried from car to bed.

But with age, the time spent in deep sleep diminishes and any number of disturbances can cause awakenings. For women going through menopause, for example, sleep is often interrupted by hot flashes. Even if there are no external disturbances, elderly people may be awakened many times during the night by the discomforts of illness or pain, the side effects of medication or the need to urinate.

Poor sleep among the elderly may in part account for problems with memory and concentration, depressed mood and daytime sleepiness. I often see gray heads nodding off at events, even during matinees.

If noise or light disturbs your sleep, you can counter them with a white-noise machine and light-blocking shades. Keep the room cool and avoid weighty covers. Two years ago, I summarized factors that commonly interfere with a good night’s sleep, but a quick review, followed by some valuable new tips that have helped me, may help you too.

EXERCISE Physical activity leaves you tired, but if you do your workout within two or three hours of bedtime, you may be too revved up to fall asleep easily.

MEDICATION Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, contain stimulating chemicals like pseudoephedrine and caffeine, commonly found in decongestants and painkillers. Beta-blockers, used to treat certain heart conditions and high blood pressure, may be disruptive as well. Ask your doctor if you can use an alternative drug.

FOOD AND DRINK Eating a big meal close to bedtime can be a problem, especially if you are prone to indigestion. Drinking a caffeinated beverage late in the day can disturb the sleep of anyone who has not developed a tolerance to caffeine by drinking too much of it. Caffeine’s stimulating effects can last for six to eight hours and make it hard to fall asleep or cause middle-of-the-night wakefulness.

Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but when its effects wear off hours later, you may wake up and be unable to get back to sleep. (I and others I know find wine especially problematic and avoid drinking it with dinner.)

STRESS Anxiety, excessive stress and difficulty shutting out worries trigger the release of body chemicals that act as stimulants. Try a relaxing bedtime ritual like a hot bath, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation, starting at the toes and working up to your head. Or, odd though it may seem, try reading something dull.

If things you must remember or do the next day keep popping into your head, put a pad and pen next to the bed, write them down and then do your best to forget about them until morning.

OTHER TIPS Years ago I mentioned that leg cramps were waking me up well before the alarm, and readers responded with myriad solutions, from bedtime stretches to magnesium supplements. What has worked best: drinking about eight ounces of tonic water (diet version) every day. Tonic water contains modest amounts of quinine, which used to be sold over-the-counter to reduce leg cramps.

Another innocuous sleep aid that has proved miraculous for me is a nightly supplement of melatonin, which the body naturally produces after dark. The pineal gland in the brain is inactive during the day, but after sundown it starts spewing melatonin into the bloodstream.

With a supplement on board, I fall asleep quickly, and if I awaken during the night, I return to sleep easily. A three-milligram supplement near bedtime is considered harmless and may help you as well, though it should not be given to children without consulting a doctor.

If hot flashes are your current problem, ask your doctor about trying the prescription drug gabapentin.

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