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In Defense of A Good Bedtime

It seems a good night’s rest is more than just a creature comfort, it’s actually vital to building the brain development and academic achievement of young children.

Researchers from the University College London followed approximately 11,000 children at ages three, five, and seven and found that kids at three years of age who had an irregular bedtime, or who went to bed after 9pm, performed worse on tests for spatial reasoning, math, and reading—even  when those same kids started to have more regular bedtimes at later ages.

That’s right: poor bedtime habits for young children followed them into the classroom, stunting their ability to learn and adding yet another barrier to reaching their full potential.

The budding literature on the brain development of young children indicates that the brain’s architecture – the neural connections that make the brain function – is most sensitive in the early years. And not only that, much of the development that defines what our brains will look like as an adult is formed within the first five years of life.

As any architect or engineer would warn, when you build a structure on an unsteady foundation there is a high risk that it will fall down. Likewise, children without solid foundations of emotional, physical, and mental development suffer the consequences years down the road.

Study after study shows that early interventions are key to reversing these trends while also setting society up to reap major benefits in the future, largely because, as Frederick Douglas opined, “[It’s] easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

And parents have the most powerful tool to start addressing these critical problems at their disposal: undivided access to their young children and the ability to positively intervene in their lives.

Some of the best science is on the side of parents. For example:

  • In one of the largest studies of its kind last year, it was found that children are exposed to an average of 232 minutes of background television per day (time when the television is on, but no one is watching), which stunts their cognitive abilities and ability to engage in social play. With the flip of the switch, parents can limit this exposure and then…
  • Make sure that children have a chance to hear as many words as possible. Unfortunately, not all children experience as many words as their peers, but the best science shows us how crucial early vocabulary is to success later in school and life. And last…
  • Keep it fun. Researchers at the American Academy of Pediatrics found that unstructured play is critical in the development of strong emotional, social, and cognitive abilities. The more children have a chance to develop their creative thinking and problem solving skills through play, the better they are at coping with stress and learning in a classroom setting later in life.      

While we support efforts by our leaders to recognize that early development is the key to a prosperous and competitive nation, we know that parents will play the most important role in creating change in homes and communities across the country.

So even though it might take one or two more readings of Goodnight, Moon to get bedtime down-pat, the science proves that it will pay off in the long run.

For more tips and information on how the best news, science, and research can help parents, businesses, and communities develop the best environment for kids, sign up for alerts from Too Small to Fail, an initiative of Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.


Follow Rey Fuentes on Twitter: @ReyNextGen »

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