Parents looking for a simple sanity saver may find it by adjusting their children’s bedtimes: Kids who fall asleep early are more likely to be healthier, and their moms have better mental health, research has found.
“So mums and dads, getting kids to bed early is not just great for them. It’s good for you, too,” said Jon Quach, lead author and research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, in a written statement.
Quach and his colleagues defined "early to bed" as being asleep by 8:30 p.m.
That’s a very typical bedtime for early school age kids, whose level of melatonin — the hormone that helps the brain chill out and fall asleep — tends to peak around 8 o’clock at night, said Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle pediatrician who writes the Seattle Mama Doc blog. She was not involved in the Australian study.
“We know that sleep is a really relevant part of our mental health, our mood. We know in kids, it’s related to behavioral [issues] and the ability to self-control,” Swanson told TODAY Parents.
“When we think about mom, it makes a lot of sense to me that if kids are early to bed, mom is going to wind down, get things done and feel like things are under control.”
The study results are based on interviews with children and parents taking part in the “Growing Up in Australia” study, which began tracking thousands of Australian families in 2004 and continued to check in with them every two years.
For this analysis, researchers used information collected from parents of kids who were 4 to 5 years old, then again when they were 6 to 7, and finally when they were 8 to 9 years old.
After crunching the study’s sleep and lifestyle data, the researchers found children with earlier bedtimes had “better health-related quality of life” compared to the other kids, while their mothers had improved mental health.
This was true regardless of how long the children actually slept — the key was going to bed early. The findings were presented at the Sleep DownUnder 2015 conference in Melbourne last month.
For guidance, the U.S. National Sleep Foundation recommends 10-13 hours of slumber for preschoolers and 9-11 hours of sleep for school age children.
Kids do much better when they have a very consistent bedtime, but that can be an issue for families, Swanson noted.
“Without question, people struggle with bedtime,” she said. “That might be the result of having a child overscheduled. … The other thing we know is we’re starting to see the creep of digital devices into the bedtime routine and into the bedroom itself.”
The blue light that comes from these gadgets affects the ability of a child to wind down, she noted.
To get your kids asleep on time, Swanson suggests the following four steps:
- Make sure they get exercise during the day
- Have screens out of their hands by 7 p.m.
- Give them time to wind down after dinner
- Give them a chance to spend family time with you before you tuck them into bed.
“There is no question that consistency and prioritization of sleep is going to make your life better,” Swanson said.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on Nov. 4, 2015.