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Children's Health

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A Little Bit of Extra Sleep Pays Off Big for Kids

9 Steps for More Sleep

As parents know, most school-aged kids would do anything to stay up even just a little bit later each night. But implementing nine simple steps can help assure that your kids get the sleep they need and are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next day.

1. Lead by example. “Prioritize sleep in your daily choices,” Gruber says.

2. Set a fixed bedtime and wake time. “The body adapts to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if the sleep schedule is relatively consistent, with no more than one hour of bedtime difference between school nights and weekends or holidays,” she says.

3. Create a consistent, calm bedtime routine. “The ideal sleeping environment is quiet, dark, and cool in the evening, and well lit in the morning,” Gruber says. “It is important that the sleeping environment should be associated with positive experiences and emotions and, therefore, parents should not use the bedroom or going to bed early as punishments.” Along the same lines, TVs, computers, and cell phones should not be in the bedroom. “Internet use should be kept to a minimum in the evening.”

4. Avoid heavy meals during the two hours before bedtime. “A small snack close to bedtime is acceptable, so that the child does not go to bed hungry,” she says. Caffeine should also be avoided in the late afternoon and evening. This includes chocolate and soda.

5. No more naps. “Napping during the day may create difficulty in nighttime sleeping,” she says.

6. Exercise regularly, as long as it is done during the day and not too close to bed, Gruber says.

7. Do homework earlier. Staying up later to finish homework is a no-no, says Nina Shapiro, MD. She is the director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. “If you have second- through sixth-graders staying up even an hour later each night to finish their homework, it has consequences.”

The solution? Start homework earlier. “This can be hard if a child has a full day at school, after-school activities, and working parents who like to have family dinner on the later side,” she says. “Kids can get crunched, but something has got to give.” This can be TV or computer time, an extracurricular activity, or simply trying to be more efficient with homework.

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