Is Your Family Sleep-deprived?
By Gail Belsky
Research has long shown that lack of sleep can lead to long-term health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. But here’s a new finding to add to the heap: Kids who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for obesity, according to a 2011 study by the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville.
Sleep loss has damaging short-term consequences too: impaired memory, trouble focusing, slower response time, emotional instability and poorer judgment. In teens, it also raises the likelihood of risky behavior and accidents.
Think your family gets enough sleep? Consider these sleep requirement guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:
- Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours a night
- School-aged kids: 10 to 11 hours
- Teens: 8.5 to 9.5 hours
- Adults: 7 to 8 hours
If you’re reconsidering whether your family gets enough sleep after all, these healthy and simple sleep habits will help:
Pick a bedtime.
Not everyone in the family goes to bed at the same time, but everyone should have a set bedtime that’s the same every night. You need set wake-up times as well. (Sleeping in to make up for lost sleep during the week only perpetuates the problem, and it doesn’t even work.) Setting your body’s clock trains it to get just the right amount of sleep.
Switch to night mode.
We’re so used to running at full steam that we continue our daytime activities right up to bedtime. Kids keep playing or watching TV, teens keep talking on Facebook, and adults sit up answering email, paying bills or finishing work. In order to transition from wakefulness to sleepiness, you need to pull the plug on all engaging activity at least 30 minutes before bedtime. After washing up, get into bed, dim the lights and spend a little quiet time reading, talking or listening to music. But at the designated time, it’s lights out and eyes shut.
Create the right conditions.
In order to sleep well, the body needs to be in a certain environment: dark, quiet and cool. Nightlights may comfort young children, but they also make it harder to sleep. Hearing the TV or the clicking of computer keys in the next room doesn’t help either. When your child is in bed, keep the light, noise and activity level outside the room as low as possible. And keep the room temperature comfortably cool.
Close the kitchen.
Eating too much too close to bedtime interferes with good sleep. Schedule dinner for at least two hours before bedtime, and watch the portion size. Also, limit dessert and snacks to one hour before bedtime, stop having caffeine in the afternoon (that also goes for decaf beverages, which still contain small amounts of caffeine) and don’t serve soda at dinner. Alcohol interferes with sleep as well, so limit your intake in the evening.
Change isn’t easy, but adopting healthy habits at night will keep your family healthy and functioning at full capacity every day.