March 22, 2021


For children, it’s not just about getting enough sleep. Bed time matters, too.

Adequate sleep is key to good health, well-being and proper functioning across all life stages but is especially critical for children. Poor sleep can inhibit rapid growth and development in early childhood.

And it’s not just about sleep duration; the time one goes to bed also plays an important role in the physical, emotional, and cognitive development of children.

Why An Early Bedtime Is So Important

A consistent early bedtime is especially important for young children transitioning from biphasic sleep (where children still nap during the day) to monophasic sleep (where sleep happens at night).

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Late sleepers don’t always get the recommended amount of sleep but evidence also suggests late bedtime is associated with sleep quality problems and difficulty falling asleep.

All this can add up to concentration, memory, and behaviour issues in children.

An early bedtime is good for physical health, too

One study of low income preschool-aged children found not getting enough sleep was associated with a higher risk of obesity. A review of academic literature on the question found

Poor sleep is increasingly common in children and associations between short sleep duration in early childhood and obesity are consistently found.

A woman reads to a child in bed.

Adequate sleep is key to good health.


It’s worth noting that most of the studies on this question are cross-sectional, which means they look at data from a population at one specific point in time. That has major limitations that make it hard to say poor sleep habits cause the higher obesity risk.

To know more, we need more longitudinal studies that examine change over time.

Early Bedtime May Prevent Obesity

That said, emerging evidence from longitudinal studies supports the idea an early bedtime may be worth the battle. One longitudinal study found:

Preschool-aged children with early weekday bedtimes were half as likely as children with late bedtimes to be obese as adolescents. Bedtimes are a modifiable routine that may help to prevent obesity.

My own research, published last year with colleagues in the journal Acta Paediatrica, analysed four years of data from 1,250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged five to eight years old.

The results highlight that even after controlling sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, children who had consistently late bedtimes (after 9.30pm) were on average 1.5kg to 2.5kg heavier at follow up three years later than children who go to bed early (at around 7pm).

We Don’t Know Why!

Nobody can yet say for sure what the exact relationship is between bedtime and obesity risk. Maybe it’s that staying up late provides more opportunities for eating junk food or drinking caffeinated drinks.

Or there could be more complex physiological factors. The body’s internal clock, which regulates sleep, also plays a crucial role in hormone secretion, glucose metabolism and energy balance.

A man and a child read a book in bed.

Try to stick to the same bedtime.

How late is late?

Sleep habits are shaped by a range of biological and cultural factors. When parents set their child’s bedtime, they’re influenced by cultural norms, lifestyle and what they know about the importance of sleep.

There are clear guidelines for sleep duration for each age group, but the time a child should go to bed isn’t always as clearly defined. For a pre-schooler, I’d recommend a consistent bedtime between 7pm and 8pm to ensure adequate sleep (recognising, of course, that work and caring responsibilities can make this really difficult for some parents).

Develop an early bedtime routine for your child and try to stick to it, even when it’s ‘not a school night’. Irregular bedtimes disrupt natural body rhythms and, as many parents know from direct experience, can lead to behavioural challenges in children.

Early childhood is a critical time in which the foundations of life-long habits are built. Developing healthy sleep habits can set children on the right path for better future health and well-being.The Conversation

Yaqoot Fatima, Senior Research Fellow, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Do your kids go to bed late or on the earlier side? Tell us your bed time challenges in the comments below.

  • 8.30 on weeknights and Sundays. But they can pick their own bedtime on Saturday’s.


  • 7pm bedtime in my house, it makes for happier children (who naturally wake at 6am regardless of bedtime – we’ve tried to change the waking time) and happier parents!


  • I found younger kids with boundless energy tire easier and no issue with bedtime. We went to bed very late and no issue.


  • My kids are usually in bed by 9pm,sometimes earlier.Although youngest one has to get up and have a glass of water just because ????


  • My kids go to bed at 9 but may need to make it sooner and less stimulation


  • Really interesting topic.Every one need good night sleep.


  • My son was always good with bed time, but I understand the topic. As a grown woman, I go to bed late at night (it feels like the only time you get me-time when others are in bed) and as a result I’m guilty of snacking/eating much later than I should.


  • My child goes to bed at a reasonable hour.


  • Makes sense- it’s the same for adults too

    • True, it’s the same for adults & kids


  • My kids had regular, sensible bed times and mostly went to sleep. My daughter sometimes got busted reading under the covers tho, she was never a fat child


  • This always has been an interesting topic to me, as I’ve been a bad sleeper all my life. Personally I like to go on time to bed, bed am early awake. To day it was from 2.20am onwards. Btw with circa 45kg I’m the opposite of fat


  • We have regular bedtime routines for everyone in the family.


  • Is it realistic for other family’s to have kids in bed by 7? I find it doesn’t fit with our schedule at all


  • This is really interesting. My boys bed time is 8pm but he fights it so much. Like tonight he stayed awake until 9:30… it’s so hard to get him to fall asleep some nights!


  • Ok, a pretty interesting study but can we not call kids fat.


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