Blog Post 12-Sleep Regularity

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain,
A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep.

Sleep is serious business.  If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial, from the point of view of the United States of America Department of the Army.  A major point, emphasized by the Army, is that more sleep produces more benefits for Soldiers.  Also, more sleep produces more benefits for children.  Even small amounts of extra sleep help (Blog Post 6).  At every age! 

Another point made by the army is “A consistent and regimented schedule of sleep- and wake-related activities [Sleep Regularity] helps to lock in other biological systems associated with circadian rhythms.  These rhythms include hormone release, digestion, muscle strength, and cardiovascular performance.  Circadian rhythms act in tandem with the need to sleep which builds throughout the day.  These rhythms optimize the process of falling asleep, staying asleep, and ensuring sleep quality.” And “Although some Soldiers [Children] may require a little more or a little less sleep, for the vast majority of Soldiers [Children] a steady diet of regular sleep is needed to sustain normal levels of brain function and health indefinitely.” 

The Army is clear about who is in charge: “Planning for sleep is a leader [Parent] competency”


            For young children in day care, dual-career families with long commutes, and older children with scheduled activities, it may be impossible to catch that exact magical drowsy state for going to sleep.  An alternative strategy is to maintain reasonably regular bedtimes.  Here is the evidence from published studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals:

                        ·  Children with irregular bedtimes at ages 3, 5, and 7 years had more behavioral difficulties at age 7 than those with regular bedtimes.  The effect of nonregular bedtimes is cumulative, that is, the more years of nonregular bedtimes, the worse the behavior.   But when children change from nonregular bedtimes to regular bedtimes, their behavior improves.  Thus, the harm is reversible.

                        ·  Children with variable sleep schedules at ages 4 and 5 years had more behavioral adjustment problems in preschool.

                        ·  High school student with irregular sleep schedules had more daytime sleepiness, lower grades, more injuries associated with alcohol or drugs, and days missed from school.

                        ·  College undergraduates with irregular sleep patterns had lower academic performance.

                        ·  Two experimental studies on college students showed that regularization of sleep/wake schedules caused improvements in alertness, and a reduction in negative mood (tension-anxiety, anger-hostility), and fatigue.

            These studies show that irregular bedtimes are harmful. For young children, when parents establish regular bedtimes, the harm is reversible.



·  Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

·  Try to not respond immediately to every quiet sound your baby makes at night. Blog Post 11.  

·  Practice soothing to sleep and bedtime routines, every night, if possible. Blog Post 10.

·  Watch for drowsy signs. Blog Post 9.

·  Respect your child’s natural sleep rhythms.  Blog Post 8.

·  Encourage an early or earlier bedtime (even a slightly earlier bedtime may produce better sleep.  Blog Post 6) especially at 6 weeks.  Blog Post 7.

∙ Recognize that a healthy brain requires healthy sleep. Blog Posts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

2 thoughts on “Blog Post 12-Sleep Regularity

  1. Nichole Morley says:

    I love this blog! My son is 2.5 years old and is an early riser. He recently dropped his nap (although he has a “rest” every day from 12:30p-1:30p) and we pushed his bedtime earlier to 7:30p (vs 8pm) as we noticed his “drowsy” signs are starting closer to 7pm. He falls asleep within 15 minutes and sleeps through the night, but wakes consistently between 5:15 and 5:45am. Is this his natural clock or is there anyway to encourage him to “sleep in?” I’m nervous that if I put him to bed even earlier he’ll be up at 5am!


    1. Congratulations on moving to an earlier bedtime! One general principle is Patience: After 5-10 days, does 7:30 seem to be his best bedtime? Another principle is Trial and Error: If you move the bedtime to 7:15, what happens over the next 5-10 days? Another principle is to be Objective: Keep a record over 5-10 days regarding his wake-up time (is 5:15am occurring 10%, 50%, or 90% of the time?); the time required to fall asleep (5, 10, 15, or more minutes?), the apparent need for a “rest” every day, and his mood, behavior, and performance around 6-7pm. Perhaps a bedtime at 7:00 or 7:15 is appropriate now, because he recently gave up his single nap, and in a few months, 7:30 or 7:45 will seem appropriate. Remember; watch your child more than you watch the clock. Good Luck! Marc


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