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Monday, November 18th, 2013
It makes perfect sense that kids who sleep well perform better, whether in the classroom, on the ball field, or simply throughout the day. There’s evidence it can even help them eat less and weigh less. In a 3-week study published in Pediatrics, researchers looked at how changing the amount of sleep 37 8- to 11-year-old kids got affected their reported food intake and body weight. During week 1, children slept their usual amount at home. Then they were randomized to either increase or decrease their time in bed by 1.5 hours each night for 1 week. Then they did the opposite over the third and final week of the study. Researchers found that when kids increased their sleep time, on average they decreased their daily calorie intake by 134 calories. Their weight was also 0.22 kg (almost half a pound) lower during the increase sleep than the decrease sleep condition.
According to Chantelle Hart, PhD, the lead author of the Pediatrics study, “We know that a good nights’ sleep is associated with a number of benefits for children across domains of functioning, including memory and learning, mood and behavioral disturbances.” Hart also says the study findings suggest that a good night’s sleep may confer other benefits to children in terms of eating and weight regulation.
Hart, an associate professor of public health at the Center for Obesity Research & Education at Temple University, suggests that parents help their kids keep a similar sleep schedule throughout the week and on weekends, and to have a consistent bedtime routine each night. She adds, “Limiting screen time and caffeine prior to bed are also recommendations we provide to families.”
Although the role sleep plays in food intake and body weight has yet to be deciphered, any parent knows how vital it is for kids—and for them—to get adequate sleep. Here are some suggestions for parents to help kids get the sleep they need, when they need it, from David Katz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Childhood Obesity journal, author of Disease Proof and father of five:
1. Be the parent. What if your kid REALLY wanted to try cocaine, or play in traffic? As parents, it’s our job to make and enforce rules that protect our kids. The only reason we find it hard to do this with regard to sleep, food, or exercise, is because we are ambivalent. If these are priorities for us, and we consistently treat them as such, our kids no more need to argue with us, let alone win, than they would about drugs, or skipping school, or…whatever.
2. Be reasonable. Younger kids need rules and guidance; older kids need options so they feel they are getting the respect they deserve and autonomy they need. Our teens always stayed up very late and slept in on weekends; we let them choose the pattern that suited them best—with a different pattern on school nights. Make and enforce the rules you need and avoid rules you don’t need so that your kids know (A) the rules are reasonable, and (B) when there is a rule, it IS a rule, and has to be treated as such.
3. Allow for experimentation. I had a poster in my dorm room in college: good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment! There is no substitute for experiential learning. Our job as parents is to protect our kids from bad judgment with irrevocable consequences—but allow for dabbling in using bad judgment vital to learning. So, we would let our kids have an occasional night to stay up as late as they wanted—and get way too little sleep—and see how they felt the next day. The experience of feeling exhausted and cranky said more about the importance of sleep than we could. That becomes a ‘see, I told you!’ kind of teachable moment, and makes the case better than words can.
4. Leave room for negotiation. As kids grow, there will be a lot of negotiation—and that’s OK. We parents have to decide where to give more ground, and where to give less. Any set of rules is easier to enforce if your kids know your rules aren’t arbitrary, and that you are prepared to negotiate in good faith, taking their priorities into account. Whenever my kids have disliked a rule of mine, I have found it very helpful to be able to say: we both know I listen to you, and often give in. When I don’t give in, it’s because I think it’s really important. If that give-and-take is combined with ‘being the parent,’ it’s a pretty tough formula for a kid to renounce.
For more expert tips to help your kids get more—and better—sleep, check out my previous Parents.com post.
How do you help your kids get the sleep they need?
Image of girl studying at the desk being tired via shutterstock.
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Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
From television to cell phones, iPads, and social media, media use has become a key part of most people’s lives in recent years. For many (myself included, I hate to admit), cell phones and other devices have practically become appendages—and our use of them somewhat addictive. As reported recently in the New York Times article, Baby’s First iPhone App, even toddlers are getting in on the act by playing with their parents’ devices—and in some cases, getting their own as a birthday or holiday gift!
In a follow up to a 2011 survey by the same name, Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013 was conducted between May 20 and June 12, 2013 with 1,463 parents of children age 8 and under. According to the survey, children’s access to mobile media devices is dramatically higher than it was two years ago. In fact, the survey reveals a fivefold increase in ownership of some type of “smart” mobile device. Whereas only 8% of families reported they owned one in 2011, a whopping 40% report they owned one in 2013. And while only about half of the children had access to a device in 2011, three quarters have access in 2013.
The survey also finds that children between the ages of 0 and 8 spend an average 1 hour and 55 minutes in front of a screen—that’s 21 minutes less than in 2011. But while total screen time decreased, time spent using mobile devices like cell phones and iPads is just about triple what it was in 2011. Thirty eight percent of children used mobile devices to play games, watch videos, or use apps in 2011; that number jumped to 72% of children 2013. And while only 10% of children under the age of 2 used a mobile device for media in 2011, that number has jumped to 38% in 2013.
According to the survey, TV is still at the center of kids’ media lives. Of the 1 hour and 55 minutes spent in front of any screen, 57 minutes is spent in front of a TV screen. The remaining 68 minutes is spent watching DVDs, using computers, playing video games and using mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Older kids spend substantially more time in front of screens. According to the 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend about 7.5 hours a daily watching TV and movies, and using computers, video games and cell phones.
Of course technology use can’t be all bad—and it can have its perks. And of course we all know how much fun it can be as well! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), media literacy and prosocial uses of media—traditional forms like TV and “new media” like cell phones, iPads, and social media—may enhance knowledge, connectedness, and health. But the APA also says media contribute substantially to various risks and health problems and that children and teenagers learn from, and may be negatively influenced by, the media.
For example, there’s evidence that screen time (TV time in particular) can interfere with sleep and contribute to the development of obesity among children. A new study of almost 3,000 Australian children followed from 4- to 5-years-of-age until 8- to 9-years-of-age found that short sleep duration at 4- to 5-years-of-age was significantly associated with higher body mass index at 8- to 9-years-of-age. Researchers suggested that this result was due, at least in part, to increased TV viewing at 6- to 7-years-of-age.
A previous study published in Appetite surveyed the parents of more than 9,000 Australian children about their children’s eating and TV viewing habits. Researchers found that those who watched TV were more likely to gain weight, and individuals who were heavier were also more likely to watch TV. They concluded that sedentary behaviors—particularly when paired with unhealthy dietary habits—significantly increase the risk for excessive weight gain in early childhood, and that it’s important to have interventions to help parents help their young children develop healthy TV viewing and eating habits.
Technology is here to stay, and as I often say when talking to other parents—whether they’re friends, family, or Parents readers—we need to learn as we go since there’s no handbook for how to raise children to use technology in a way that enhances—rather than sabotages—their physical and emotional health. To provide some guidance, a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics called Children, Adolescents, and the Media suggests the following recommendations for parents:
- Parents can model effective “media diets” to help their children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.
- Make a family media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.
- Limit entertainment screen time to less than 1 or 2 hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to follow and implement the above guidelines in my home. I’ll report how it goes in a future Scoop on Food post. Please email me if you’d like to join in and keep in touch with me along the way.
Check out these 10 guilt-free apps for preschoolers. Then, find out if your little one is too sick for school by taking our quiz.
For more information, check out Kids & the Media by the American Psychological Association.
Image of baby boy with cell phone via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, June 27th, 2013
Who doesn’t covet sleep? Spending enough time under the covers eludes many parents, especially when raising young children. When I think back to 15 and 11 years ago when I had, and brought home, my beautiful sons, the one negative that comes to mind is the erratic and irregular sleeping habits that characterized our household. As one who really needs her sleep (and is admittedly often in PJs at around 9 P.M.), I can’t say that I miss walking around exhausted, irritable, and listless during most of those days. (I do miss my sons’ endless hugs and kisses, but I digress…)
We all know that getting enough high quality sleep is important. But as reported in a recent article in the New York Times and covered on the Today show, most of us sleep a lot less (and well) than we should. And while sleep is essential for us all, it’s absolutely critical for growing children and adolescents.
Studies suggest that kids who don’t sleep enough tend to weigh more than kids who do. One study found that three to four year-old Brazilian children who slept less had higher body weights than those who slept longer. On average, the children who were overweight slept an average of 23 minutes less than normal weight children. Another study found that compared to sleeping at least 10 hours nightly, less than 10 hours per night on weekdays was associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference among adolescents. Another study in the Netherlands found that short sleep duration was associated with overweight among four to 13 year-old boys and nine to 13 year-old girls (but not those aged four to eight). Researchers also found a strong link between less sleep and more tv time and computer use (a big shocker, I know).
Not enough sleep may also reduce kids’ heart health. A recent study found that lower quality sleep and higher sleep disturbance was linked with increased cardiovascular risk, increased risk of hypertension, and higher unhealthy cholesterol levels. Other research suggests that sleep deprivation can significantly impair kids’ daytime neurobehavioral function and contribute to academic struggles, challenging behaviors, substance abuse and other problems.
If that wasn’t enough, a study of one to 14 year-olds also found that sleeping less than eight hours a day was linked with a higher risk of accidental falls.
So what are parents to do—especially during the summer, when schedules are ever-changing due to travel and other activities? Here are six tips to help your kids (and you) get the sleep you need this summer and beyond:
Know the number: According to the National Sleep Foundation, daily sleep needs for one to three year-olds is about 12 to 14 hours; for three to five year-olds, it’s about 11 to 13 hours; and five to 12 year-olds should aim for 10 to 11 hours.
Have a routine. Clinical Psychologist Michael Breus, PhD says bedtimes should be consistent, and that each child in the family should have his or her own bedtime based on age and stage. To help kids get on a healthy routine, Dr. Breus says it’s all about consistency and ritual. “I advise parents to help their kids create a routine that includes meals at least two to three hours before bed, no electronics for at least an hour before bed, minimal amounts of physical activity before bed, and dim lights in the bedroom,” says Breus.
Cap the nap. Sometimes, even the best-intentioned parents want their kids to take a nap—even when they’re not due for or don’t need one. According to University of Pennsylvania researcher Michael Grandner, PhD, “Sometimes getting young kids to fall asleep in the car while traveling seems like a respite from the extra stress of a car trip. But if kids nap for too long, or too late in the day, parents and kids may be in for a rough night.” Grandner says that not only will kids’ “hunger” for sleep be less powerful at night when you actually want them to sleep, but they’re likely to wake up cranky, tired, and irritable (and we’ve all seen this happen). He suggests keeping naps to the early afternoon, for a limited time, to protect sleep at night. Dr. Breus adds, “If no longer age appropriate (by about age five), naps are out as they will only delay sleep onset.”
Get back on track. When your kids’ bedtime routine is sidetracked by vacations, celebrations, and ever-changing summer schedules, helping your kids get the sleep they need can be a big challenge. Although he recommends staying on a set sleep schedule as often as possible, Breus knows that sometimes it’s not possible. He does recommend, however, that kids who get off track on sleep get back on as soon as possible. Although he doesn’t suggest putting kids to bed earlier, Breus says it’s OK to do so if the sleep they were getting was really poor.
Stay in the zone. According to Grandner, vacations—especially across time zones—can create plenty of sleep challenges. He says, “Keep track of where kids’ internal clock is and try to avoid bright light when you want their bodies to think it is “night.” He also suggests exposing kids to bright sunlight when you want their bodies to think it is “morning,” and keeping routines from home—like reading a book before bed time—the same when away.
Look for the flags. According to Breus, your child’s sleep problems may be something worth discussing with a pediatrician or sleep doctor if his or her behavior seems out of control (Breus says kids have a tendency to act wild when tired, almost looking like ADD); they snore; or if they won’t go to sleep, and bedtime is a nightly struggle.
How do you help your kids get the sleep they need?
Image of sad adorable little girl in the bed closeup via Shutterstock.
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