Helping your children gain a mental
edge—and superior math and reading skills—may be as easy as tucking them into
bed at the same time every night, according to research conducted at University
The study, which was published in the
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, involved
over 11,000 children at the ages of three, five, and seven. Researchers found
that youngsters who went to bed at irregular hours scored lower in cognitive
tests for reading, math, and spatial abilities. They noted that sleep is
crucial for brain
plasticity—the brain’s ability to change and modify its structure—which allows
us to learn.
The effect was cumulative. Girls who
had never gone to bed at a consistent time scored significantly lower in all
tests. They also scored lower if they only had irregular bedtime hours at the
age of seven.
Boys, on the other hand, reported
lower scores when they’d had irregular bedtime hours during only two of the
three age periods (such as ages three and five, five and seven, or three and
seven). Non-regular bedtimes only at the
age of five led to lower reading scores in girls and lower math scores in boys.
Study participants were part of the Millennium
Cohort Study, a long-term study of infants born in the U.K. between the years
2000 and 2002. They were tested by being asked to read a series of words on a
card out loud, complete number-based tasks, and construct designs by putting
together solid cubes with patterns while being monitored for speed and accuracy.
The amount of sleep little ones need
varies from child to child, so it’s best to observe their mood and behavior. However,
Sleep Foundation makes the following recommendations for each age group:
Newborn babies – 12 to 18 hours of sleep
1 to 3-year-olds – 12 to 14 hours of sleep
Preschoolers – 11 to 13 hours of sleep
5 to 10-year-olds – 10 to 11 hours of sleep
Teenagers – 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep
Creating a sleep-friendly routine can help your
children get the zzz’s they need. Consider if these expert tips could make it
easier for your kids to drift into dreamland:
Turn off electronic
devices—such as videogames and television—about a half hour or an hour before
bedtime. “This gives the brain time to relax, making it easier to fall asleep,”
Dr. Suresh Kotogal wrote for the Mayo Clinic. Kotogal further recommends keeping computers
and televisions out of a child’s bedroom.
Make sure your child avoids
caffeine. Soft drinks like cola are obvious culprits, but beware of sugary
treats like chocolate, too. Cutting out caffeine for several hours before
bedtime, or even entirely, can help kids fall asleep quicker and sleep more
Create a sleep-friendly
environment. A room that is dark, cool and free of distracting noise is
conducive to sleep.
stories and lullabies are soothing pre-sleep rituals for younger children. As
kids get older, encourage them to continue reading or having their own quiet
time before bed. A relaxing nightly routine free of stimulating activities can
help your child prepare mentally for sleep.