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How a Consistent Bedtime May Help Your Child’s Health

Bedtime with your child can either mean a relaxing time to settle into dreamland — or a frustrating experience for you both.

If you find yourself dreading bedtime struggles, you may want to look at your child’s routine. If your child seems to be tired during the day, did you know they might be suffering from jet lag? This is not the jet lag that comes from a long plane ride. Instead, this is more what some have called "social jet lag," which may happen when a child doesn’t have a consistent bedtime. 


For example, when a child goes to bed earlier on a weekday because of school, but on the weekend, stays up late — and then sleeps in — his or her body needs more time to adjust. 

That inconsistency in sleep can cause more than a little drowsiness.  It may also have an effect on the physical and emotional well-being of your child. For example, a recent study published in Global Pediatric Health noted that not having a consistent bedtime may lead to an increase in obesity in children. This comes from potential disruptions to what’s called the circadian clock — an internal regulation of the body tied to the natural cycle of a day. In turn, these sleep disruptions may affect a person’s metabolism.

The first step to avoiding that social jet lag is making sure your child is getting enough sleep in the first place. This is especially important because “catching up” on sleep on the weekends is not recommended. Instead, consider using these guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics to give you an idea of how much sleep your child needs, based on his or her age:
 

 Development stage

  Age

  Recommend amount of sleep*

 Infants

 4 to 12 months

 12 to 16 hours, including naps

 Toddlers

 1 to 2 years

 11 to 14 hours, including naps

 Preschoolers

 3 to 5 years

 10 to 13 hours, including naps

 Grade schoolers

 6 to 12 years

 9 to 12 hours

 Teens

 13 to 18 years

 8 to 10 hours

                                                                                                    *per 24 hours

Beyond ensuring your child gets the right amount of sleep, there are ways to help your child have a better quality of sleep, once they do go to bed. Here are a few tips that might help:

Reduce screen time and electronics before bedtime. The blue light from devices like phones and tablets has been shown to disrupt quality sleep. 

Practice good sleep hygiene. This means keeping the bedroom dim and as silent as possible, as well as making sure it’s not too warm or too cold. 

Set up a bedtime routine. Stick to a consistent schedule — with plenty of time for wind-down and relaxation. This might mean a bath and story time for younger children. For older kids or teens, it might mean practicing relaxation techniques.

Getting to bed on time can be a common — and constant — problem for kids and their parents. It can be difficult to avoid distractions and say no to those opportunities to stay up late, particularly on the weekends. But by ensuring a consistent routine, you may have a positive impact on not only your child’s sleep, but their overall health, as well.