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Raising Fit Kids: Healthy Nurtition, Exercise, and Weight

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You know your child needs sleep. But do you know why?  

It's not just that overtired kids are cranky. Not getting enough sleep can hurt their health and ability to make good choices.

How much sleep should your kids get?

You may be surprised by how much they need.

  • Toddlers: 12-14 hours
  • Preschoolers: 11-13 hours
  • School-age kids: 10-11 hours
  • Tweens and teens: 8.5-9.25 hours

How Poor Sleep Affects Your Child

Your body uses sleep as a time to repair itself. Even half an hour less each night can derail that process. The effects of not getting enough sleep include:

Weight gain. Lack of sleep can make kids hungrier and drawn to high-calorie foods. When you’re tired, your body makes more of the hormone that makes you hungry, increasing your appetite. And when you're tired, it makes less of the hormone that tells you you’re full. So not only do you feel hungrier but you may eat more than usual before you realize that you’re full. Plus, lack of sleep also affects your metabolism. Not getting enough sleep raises the risk of diabetes and unhealthy weight gain in kids and adults.

Bad moods. "Kids who don't get enough sleep have trouble regulating their emotions," says Jodi A. Mindell, PhD, associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night. Some of the surliness we associate with teenagers just being teens may actually be because they aren’t getting enough sleep, she says. Overtime, not getting enough sleep can increase risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in teens.

Trouble in school. Sleep is essential for building memory. Without enough, your kids may not recall what they've learned, Mindell says.

Accidents. Tired kids are prone to accidents, including sports injuries. More than half of all teen drivers drove drowsy in the past year -- and drowsy-driving accidents are most common in people under age 25, Mindell says.

Bad judgment. "Kids who are overtired make worse decisions," Mindell says. That's not just a problem during SATs. They may be more likely to post an inappropriate picture on Facebook or get in a car with a kid who's been drinking.

How to Help Kids Get Enough Sleep

Take bedtime seriously. Set a firm bedtime and stick to it. Don't let your kids get jobs or take part in after-school activities that keep them out too late. Build your weekly schedules around having enough time for sleep.

Keep gadgets out of the bedroom. That means no TV -- and no laptops, phones, or tablets either.

"Have a rule that all gadgets stay plugged in on the kitchen counter at night," Mindell says. "That goes for the parents too, not just the kids."

 

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