Study shows how an early bedtime can have a long-term impact on kids
As if we parents didn’t have enough to stress about, along comes yet another study that does little more than restate the obvious and give parents one more thing to feel like shit about. According to CNN, this latest study found that kids who went to bed after 9 p.m. as preschoolers were more likely to be obese as teenagers. Which means that not only can we feel guilty about the immediate impact of sleep on our children, but the long-term effects as well. And if there is one thing parents need it’s another study that makes us feel like crap for all the things we’re doing wrong.
“Preschool-aged children with early weekday bedtimes were half as likely as children with late bedtimes to be obese as adolescents,” said Sarah Anderson, associate professor of epidemiology at Ohio State University’s College of Public Health and lead author of the study. “This was true even after taking into account other factors that we know are related to risk for obesity.” And in the not-news-to anyone category, Anderson went on to remind us of the health and behavior benefits of getting enough sleep, including cognitive development. “Regular bedtime routines, including an early bedtime, also are linked to fewer sleep problems such as nighttime awakenings or difficulty falling asleep.”
In the not-helpful-at-all category, one sleep “expert” recommends that parents simply make bedtime non-negotiable. Cue the collective eye-roll. “Bedtime is not optional, and just as parents should not negotiate whether a child has to brush his or her teeth, they should not negotiate bedtime,” says Reut Gruber, researcher at McGill University in Canada and director of a Very Important Sleep Lab. Don’t negotiate? Has Dr. Gruber ever actually dealt with a preschooler before? Because every parent of a four-year-old will tell you that they have the negotiation skills of a CIA operative. We aren’t negotiating parenthood; we’re surviving.
Look, we all know that sleep is a good thing. Telling parents that more sleep is healthier for our kids is like telling us that broccoli is healthier than Oreos. No shit. Believe me, there isn’t a parent out there who is choosing to keep their kids up late. We want them in bed early as much as anyone so we can pour a glass of wine while we binge-watch Stranger Things. But parenting is hard, we’re busy as hell, and life gets in the way. By time we get home from work or school, make dinner, do homework, and chill out for a little while as a family, it’s late. And then once we’ve wrangled our kids into their pajamas, finished the aforementioned non-negotiable teeth brushing and tucked our little ones into their beds, there are countless pop-outs to get a cup of water, complain about an itchy sock, or ask about whether dogs can understand Spanish.
No doubt the Sanctimommies and POOPCUPs (parents of one perfect child under the age of two) will be all over this study. Bless their well-rested hearts. We all go into this parenting gig with the best of intentions, regular and early bedtimes among them. My firstborn went to bed at a shockingly early 7 p.m. for a hot minute, but after adding another child, a new job, and a heaping spoonful of reality to the mix, we’re lucky if our kids are asleep before Jimmy Fallon comes on.
Look, parenting is hard and comes with a steep learning curve. Practical advice and helpful information are welcome. But we don’t need more research stating the obvious. What we really need is some support. We need societal changes that help us parent – things like parental leave and less homework and flexible work schedules. We need less guilt about all the ways we’re screwing our kids up, and more help. And we sure as shit don’t need another redundant study reminding us of all the ways we’re falling short.