Children's capacity to learn may be affected by their sleeping patterns long before they have been taught by a primary school teacher, according to a new study.
Researchers at University College London utilised the UK Millennium Cohort Study of more than 11,000 children born between 2000 and 2002 to discern the relationship between bedtimes in early childhood and brain power.
Irregular bedtimes were found to be particularly common at the age of three, when approximately one in five children had no set time at which they went to sleep.
By contrast, by the time they reached seven years old, more than half of all children regularly went to bed at sometime between 19:30 and 20:30.
The researchers' findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, illustrated that children who had irregular bedtimes at the age of three tended to attain lower scores in tests of reading, maths, and spatial awareness at the age of seven.
Children who did not have a regular bedtime at five, however, were not affected in this way, although girls who did not go sleep at a consistent time at seven tended to perform worse on tests, whereas boys did not.
In the authors' view, irregular sleeping patterns could disrupt natural body rhythms and cause sleep deprivation, detrimentally affecting the plasticity of the brain and thereby its ability to acquire and retain information.
Senior author Professor Amanda Sacker asserted: "Early child development has profound influences on health and wellbeing across the life course.
"Therefore, reduced or disrupted sleep, especially if it occurs at key times in development, could have important impacts on health throughout life."
Furthermore, the study revealed that girls who had irregular bedtimes at the ages of three, five and seven did significantly worse on the tests, while boys who did not have a consistent bedtime at any two of those ages also fared substantially less well than other boys.
Irregular bedtimes and going to bed after 21:00 were meanwhile found to be more common among children from socially deprived backgrounds.
Earlier this year, an international study was published by Boston College indicating that nearly two thirds of English nine and ten-year-old pupils taking maths and science tests were affected by sleep deprivation.
Posted by Tim Colman