Irregular bedtimes may inhibit healthy brain development in children, according to research conducted by scientists at University College London. The study shows that a lack of routine can impair early development by disrupting the body clock, which affects the brain's ability to recall and learn new information.
The study revealed that going to bed at a different time each night affects girls more than boys, but neither performed as well with mental tasks as children who had a set bedtime. The effect was most striking in three-year-olds, where children scored lower on reading, maths and spatial skills tests than children of the same age who had a set bedtime.
Commenting on the results, Amanda Sacker, professor of life course studies at UCL, said that "if a child is having irregular bedtimes at a young age, they're not synthesising all the information around them at that age, and they've got a harder job to do when they are older".
Interestingly, the hour that children went to bed did not affect their performance in tests, but having an irregular bedtime led to poorer performance. This suggests that, within reason, it doesn’t matter when children go to bed, as long as they have the same bedtime every night. In any case, the study demonstrates that quality sleep within a set schedule has a positive effect on children’s development in the long and short-term.