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Why hitting the hay early could be more important than length of sleep

Regardless of your age no one likes the crankiness or lack of concentration that can come from a poor nights rest.

But generally when we think of what constitutes a good night’s sleep for children, the advice of getting in ten hours comes to mind.

However new research from the long term Growing Up Australia study has given us reason to rethink what is most integral to getting a good night’s rest for optimum health and wellbeing.

Alongside the University of New England and The University of Melbourne, we analysed sleep and lifestyle data from 3600 children at ages four to five, six to seven and eight to nine. The children were divided into four groups — those who were early to bed and early to rise; early to bed and late to rise; late to bed and late to rise; and late to bed and early to rise. Children who were early to bed were asleep by 8.30pm, while late-to-bed kids fell asleep after this time. Children who were early to wake were awake by 7:15am.

The study found that children who are early to sleep compared with children who are late to sleep have better health-related quality of life across all ages, and their mothers had improved mental health when children were six - seven years.

These health benefits were seen in all early-to-bed children regardless of whether they woke early or slept late. There was no association between sleep timing and a range of other factors including children’s behaviour or weight.

This is valuable information for parents, many of whom know about the importance of kids getting lots of sleep overall, but not yet much about just how significant the bedtime itself is.

It seems that staying up late can affect the quality of sleep children are getting, even if they sleep the recommended number of hours.

Long-term sleep problems have been associated with high blood pressure, obesity and mental-health disorders, so parents could help set their children up for life with healthy sleep hygiene.

Need a little help to get your child to bed early?

Our sleep experts recommend the following tips:

  • Tend to eat late? Try getting the kids dinners in a little earlier so they don’t go to bed on a full stomach
  • Have a consistent bedtime on all nights of the week, not just on school nights
  • Install a hall or night light if a fear of the dark is causing anxiety
  • Encourage relaxing activities in the hour before bed like reading a book
  • Keep televisions, computers and electronic games out of the bedroom
  • Avoid using electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, in the hour before bed
  • Avoid strenuous exercise in the few hours before bed but make sure your child gets plenty of exercise during the day.
  • Limit spicy or salty foods which can cause thirsty children to wake

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