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Irregular sleep causes behavioral issues in children

According to researchers at University College London, children whose bedtimes vary end up with more behavioral issues than children with a regular sleep schedule.

The study
The concept behind the theory is that fluctuating sleep schedules cause depravation in rest during a time when children's brains are developing. This interruption toys with behavioral centers of the mind. 

"Not having fixed bedtimes, accompanied by a constant sense of flux, induces a state of body and mind akin to jet lag and this matters for healthy development and daily functioning," Professor Yvonne Kelly said. 

Researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 children who were involved in the UK Millennium Cohort Study. This data was taken from children at three, five and seven years of age and included information on behavior provided by parents and teachers. As time went on, children without regular bedtimes scored increasingly lower on behavior tests. These tests measured hyperactivity, conduct and socialization problems, and emotional difficulties. Conversely, children with regular sleep schedules scored better over time. 

Fortunately, the study also showed that behavior issues irritated by irregular sleep could be reversed. Once a child was put on a regular sleep schedule, he began seeing improvements in behavioral scores. 

Getting them to bed
Sometimes making a sleep schedule for a child is difficult. Fortunately, there are plenty of techniques to help children fall asleep at the same time everyday. Bedtime starts long before lights out. A couple hours before, all stimulating activity should be put on hold. So if a child is off playing with used sports equipment before bed, he will have a harder time falling asleep. Instead, schedule physical activities earlier in the day. Read books or pull out coloring pages instead.

Television can be just as stimulating as sports. If the television is on, be sure the content is mellow or soothing. A good documentary geared toward kids could do the trick. You may want to nix television altogether, however, if you notice your child is still not falling asleep. 

Avoid large meals or snacks before bed. Caffeine should also remain out of the evening diet. Children shouldn't have caffeine within six hours of going to sleep. 

Set bedtimes as well as wake-up times. This gives you control over the number of hours your child sleeps and prevents them from oversleeping. If you child goes to bed late one night, still wake her up on time and put her to bed as normal the next day. This reinforces the schedule. Be strict about the times you pick, but if you notice your child's individual sleep needs are different, feel free to alter the schedule. 

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