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.
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!
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.
Participation in too many after-school activities can get kids amped up, pushing back dinnertime, homework time - and bedtime. 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?'"
Related: Learn the 5 Stages of Sleep
2. Too Much Technology
Who wants to sleep when there are friends to text and sites to surf? The more screens and gadgets kids have in their bedrooms, the more likely they are to doze off at school or over homework. That's bad news, since 38 percent of preschoolers and 68 percent of school-age kids have a television in their bedroom. What's more, a recent study showed that TV-watching at bedtime makes kids less likely to drift off into sound, rejuvenating sleep, possibly because the brain interprets the screen's glow as daylight and halts the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Plus - often unbeknownst to their parents - many kids get up and watch TV in the middle of the night, which is likely to amp them up, says Mindell.
The solution? Make your child's bedroom a media-free zone. If she already has a computer or TV there, unplug it and move it into a family space. (Letting her choose where in the house she wants to put the media center, and giving her full rein in decorating it, may make the move less bumpy for both of you.) Another tactic, one that also boosts health: Have your child "earn" each hour of recreational tech time with an hour of exercise. When researchers at the University of Ottawa employed this strategy with overweight children, it cut the kids' TV time by two hours a day, increased their physical activity by 65 percent, and reduced their body mass index, lowering their risk of weight-related health concerns.
Related: How to Tame Tantrums (Without Losing Your Cool)
3. Sneaky Caffeine
Even just one caffeinated drink a day robs children of half an hour of sleep each night - another reason to monitor your child's intake of sugar-laden sodas. But caffeine can lurk in lots of surprising places, including bottled teas, chocolate, and coffee-flavored ice cream. Hefty amounts can also be found in over-the-counter medications such as Anacin, Excedrin, and Dristan, so scan the active and inactive ingredients lists for caffeine before you give your child one of these meds. And check drink and protein bar labels for guarana, a common herbal stimulant.
Related: Improve Your Child's Sleep Habits
Bad dreams are often triggered by real-life events that frighten kids, including immunizations, being left alone, or accidents - not to mention the scary impressions left by a few minutes of the nightly news report. "Nightmares are actually good for a child. They're a way to process and make sense of both real and imaginary fears, which enables him to deal with them better in his waking life," says pediatrician Alan Greene, M.D., author of From First Kicks to First Steps and a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University. "If a nightmare wakes him up, your best approach is to comfort him and tuck him back into bed, then give him the opportunity the next day to draw pictures or tell stories to work through the underlying issues."
Related: The Co-Sleeping Debate: Do You Let Your Child Sleep in your Bed?
5. A Hidden Health Concern
If your child snores heavily off and on, thrashes about in bed, and awakens frequently, her struggles with sleeping may signal an underlying health condition that requires attention. "Probably 60 percent of children brought to our clinic have sleep issues related to a physical reason," says Mindell. One common culprit: sleep apnea, a condition characterized by temporary breathing disruptions during slumber. Childhood cases have skyrocketed by 436 percent in the past 20 years, largely because the number of overweight children has tripled to 16 percent in the same period (excess fatty tissue in the throat can block airways).
Related: Find Out Why You're So Tired: 7 Causes of Fatigue
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