JJ Virgin: As we move from the lazy days of summer to the early mornings of back-to-school season, it's important to make sure that your kids are getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation not only contributes to crankiness, low energy and an inability to concentrate in school, but it can also make kids hungrier and more prone to storing fat. They're already more susceptible to obesity today, thanks to the proliferation of sedentary activities like watching TV, playing on computers and talking on cell phones in their rooms.
Pediatricians recommend that most kids get a minimum of 10 hours of sleep per night. Here's how to help your children get enough sleep:
* Power-off electronics at bedtime.
The flashing light of a computer, TV or video-game console can keep your kids awake and signal to their brains that it's playtime rather than bedtime. Ideally, these items shouldn't be in the bedroom at all, but if your kids insist, unplug the gizmos from the wall or put them on a power strip so you can power them off completely and give your kids a dark, restful environment at night.
* Curb your child's caffeine intake.
Chocolate and many sodas contain caffeine, which could be keeping your kids awake at night. Due to their small size, kids are even more susceptible to the insomnia-inducing effects of caffeine than adults are!
* Start a sleep ritual.
Just as adults need downtime to relax and unwind before bed, kids also respond well to a pre-bedtime power-down hour. This could include reading a book, taking a bath or listening to soft, soothing music. Avoid playing video games or doing other activities that could rile them up.
* Keep bedtimes consistent.
It's counterproductive to enforce a bedtime on weekdays, then let your kids stay up until all hours on the weekends. Keep weekend bedtimes within an hour or so of the regular bedtime, so the transition from Sunday night to Monday morning isn't such a nightmare. Consistency is key, so it's a good idea to maintain a bedtime even during school vacation.
Note: Many of these tips also apply to parents. Don't forget that you need your Z's, too!