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Children's Health

Help Kids Sleep All Night

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WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Meg Lundstrom

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An astounding seven out of 10 children aren't getting enough z's. Here, five top children's sleep-stealers, plus smart strategies that ensure sound slumber for them — and for you.

You tuck your kids into bed with a kiss and a prayer...that they'll drift off quickly and sleep through the night (so you can too!). Sadly, those z's don't always come easy: Nearly 70 percent of kids under age 10 experience some type of sleep problem, according to the National Sleep Foundation. And although sleep needs naturally decrease by about 15 minutes on average every year (1-year-olds require almost 14 hours daily, while a 17-year-old needs at least 8.25 hours), a startling 80 percent of kids ages 11 to 17 get less than the recommended amount, and 54 percent of 17-year-olds don't get to bed before 11 p.m.

Unfortunately, lost sleep can do more than just leave kids groggy and grumpy. Studies show that children who are sleep-deprived are more likely to be depressed, to catch colds and flu, and to suffer accidents on the playground. Just one hour less of sleep a night causes measurable memory and concentration problems. Behavioral problems, such as whining and short tempers, also shoot up. In fact, the frenzied energy and lack of focus in some sleep-challenged kids is often mistaken for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. And those who get less than 10 hours a night are three times more likely to be obese than those getting 12 or more, putting them at higher risk of diabetes and other weight-related conditions.

The good news: Sleep problems in kids are easily prevented and treated, experts say. You can help the entire family get more rest by addressing these major roadblocks to a good night's sleep.

 

Overscheduling

Participation in too many after-school activities can get kids amped up, pushing back dinnertime, homework time—and bedtime. Compared to 1981, now the average kid has almost two hours less of unstructured time each day. Instead, they spend twice as much time in structured competitive sports, while good old-fashioned outdoor play—the running, jumping, and catch-playing that reduces stress and helps them sleep at night—has dropped by more than half. A rule of thumb: "If your kid never says, 'I'm bored,' he's overscheduled," says child psychologist 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. "Sit down with your child and tell him, 'You're allowed to do two things this season: one sport and another activity. Which will it be?'"

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