Help Your Kids Sleep Better

I've already blogged about how important sleep is to moms, how most Americans don't recognize they are sleep deprived, and how adults can improve their chances of getting enough rest. But what about your children? According to WebMD, seven out of 10 kids aren't getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation drives down a child's ability to think and do well in school, is linked to ADD, can lead to poor childhood growth, increases the risk of childhood obesity, and lowers your child's immune system. And, as all parents know, tired kids are often cranky and disobedient.

Even one hour less sleep can make a remarkable difference in how your child functions during the day. In one study, researchers at Brown University Medical School found teens who were getting Cs, Ds, or Fs in school went to bed about 40 minutes later than kids getting As and Bs. In another study, grade school teachers reported about 10% of their students fell asleep in class. How Much Sleep Do Kids Need? According to WebMD, babies under the age of 12 months need around 15 hours of sleep each day/night. Children 1 to 3 years old require 12 to 14 hours of sleep; kids 3 to 6 years old need 10 3/4 to 12 hours; 7 to 12 year olds need 10 or 11 hours; and kids 12 to 18 need at least 8 1/4 to 9 1/2 hours. How to Help Kids Sleep If your child isn't getting enough sleep, first explain to him (repeatedly, if necessary) how important sleep is. For the youngest kids, you can simply say "Sleep makes you grow big and strong, and makes you feel better during the day." For older kids, you can read summaries of medical studies together and relate your own stories about how sleep deprivation has affected your life. Next, review the tips I've already posted for adults; many work for kids, too. In addition, try these tips: * Stick to quiet activities a few hours before bed, like reading, coloring, or board games. * Don't overschedule your child's day. If your child spends her day running from one activity to another, she'll be too hyped up to sleep. According to Jodi A. Mindell, Ph.D., coauthor of Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep and associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, "If your kid never says, 'I'm bored,' he's overscheduled." * Make sure your kids get outside to play every day for at least a few hours. According to one study, it takes kids around 26 minutes to fall asleep. But for every inactive hour a child spends during the day, it takes three minutes longer for her to fall asleep. However, the more active kids are during the day, the fewer minutes it takes them to fall asleep. * Avoid caffeine and simple carbs. Remember caffeine doesn't just come in coffee and sodas; you'll also find it in chocolate, teas, and some ice creams. Even some over the counter medications contain caffeine. * Set up a regular bedtime, and make sure your child is in bed every night at that hour. This takes some planning, since children are experts at prolonging activities to avoid going to bed. * Try an earlier bedtime. If your child turns bedtime into a battle, or is fussy or grumpy when you try to put her to bed, she may just be overtired and need to turn in earlier. * Give one "free pass." If your child repeatedly asks for "one more drink of water," "one more trip to the potty," or something similar, give him a slip of paper that can be turned in for one of these things. Once the pass has been used, there's no more getting up from bed or turning on the light. * Some kids need time alone before going to sleep. Try setting up alone time a half hour or so before bed. * Be firm. From the time your children are babies, be gentle but firm about bedtime. * Don't start with bad habits. For example, if you rock your baby to sleep every night, you'll just have to break her of this habit later. Why prolong the agony? If your baby cries when you put him down, give him around 15 minutes. Really, it won't hurt him. If, after 15 minutes, he's still crying, walk into his room, talk to him soothingly and pat his back. Then leave. Repeat as necessary. (This isn't to say that rocking can't be part of the bedtime routine. Just put your child to bed before he falls asleep.) Naturally, if your baby is colicky, that medical problem will have to be addressed before you can begin instilling good sleep habits. * Allow your child a nightlight if she asks for one, or if she's afraid of the dark. * With your pediatrician, identify underlying problems, like apnea, bed-wetting, nightmares, night terrors and seek treatment. * Although it's better to help your child learn to sleep well without medication, if sleep deprivation is hurting your child, medication may be useful. If your child has persistent sleep problems, be sure to discuss them with your pediatrician and consider either prescription or over the counter treatment. Bookmark and Share

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