A recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Pediatrics, highlighted an association between the regularity of children’s bedtimes and the prevalence of behavior problems. Specifically, children who did not have regular bedtimes had worse behavioral scores, as rated by their mothers and teachers. The study was an analysis of data from the UK Millennium Cohort study (MCS), a longitudinal population based study on children similar to the landmark US Cardiology study, the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). The study drew from interviews of mothers of 10,230 children, which is twice the size of the original FHS cohort, and garnered much interest from mainstream media and internet health blogs.
The findings of this study was neither surprising nor counterintuitive. After all, the medical community has long promoted adequate amount of sleep for children. Additionally, parenting experts and pediatricians regularly emphasized the importance of routines in the lives of children to promote security and confidence. Hence, logic would dictate that for school-age children who have regular early morning school start times, the simultaneous needs of adequate sleep and fixed routines would necessitate regular bedtimes.The cynic might then conclude that the MCS analysis was a waste of resources as it merely stated the obvious. Yet, if one looked beyond the bottom line of associations and statistical significances, there were a few additional insights to be drawn from this study.
Firstly, even if the moral of this research story was the same as many medical advice before it, a fresh presentation can help to invigorate or emphasize the underlying message. Adequate sleep, established routines and set bedtimes may sound like three different pieces of advice, but a pediatrician can use these three messages together without sounding like a broken record dampening the resonance of the main point. Human nature is prone to repeat mistakes of the past, and a fresh set of data, even if redundant, can only validate the forgotten truisms of the past.
Secondly, the structural numbers at the root of the study’s sage conclusion are a testament to the wisdom of mothers. For on close inspection, nearly three quarters of mothers interviewed (7,439 of the 10,230) already implemented regular bedtimes for their children. Whether from their own experimental trial on prior children, or through following the advice and examples of wise mothers before them, these mothers knew instinctively what the study attempted to show with fancy analytical models. Statistical significance merely became another expression of maternal wisdom.
Tributes to mothers notwithstanding, we should not miss that fact that over 25% of the parents in this large study did not put their children to bed on a regular schedule. The characteristics of these parents suggested that parental education remains a key determinant in affecting positive change in children. For parents who do not have the benefit of education from their peers or parents, the healthcare providers will need to serve this mentoring role.