Dr. Mom: Help your child get more sleep

10/25/2012 12:00 AM

10/24/2012 12:51 PM

If you want fewer tears, less whining and a more cooperative and well-rested child, all you need are 27 extra minutes.

A study published in this month's Journal of Pediatrics reported that as a little as 27 extra minutes of sleep per night for your child can translate into huge positive effects on your child's emotional and cognitive health.

And it makes sense. I love studies like these because it drives home the importance of sleep and how simple little changes at home can drastically improve your child's overall health. The study specifically looked at school performance and behavior and showed significant improvement in both aspects for the group of children sent to bed earlier (on average 27 minutes).

There were fewer meltdowns and frustrations and a greater ability to focus and pay attention. And while most of us parents know this simply by observing our children after a night of too-little sleep, parents and pediatricians now have more than personal anecdotes to go on.

This tiny piece of pro-sleep evidence adds to the body of science supporting the notion that sleep is truly the cornerstone of our children's health. In addition to the immediate effect on mood and behavior, sleep deprivation has been linked to ADHD-like symptoms, obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and it can interfere with growth and cognitive performance.

We. Must. Prioritize. Sleep.

Your school-age child needs 10-11 hours per night. That, of course, varies from individual to individual. My 5-year-old still needs closer to 11 hours while my 7-year-old seems fine with barely 10.

The key is to find your child's sleep sweet spot. Start the bedtime routine a half an hour earlier than you normally do. Do this for a week and see if you notice a change in your child's wake time, mood and behavior the following day.

We recently did this with my daughter, who was having more tantrums than ever at the start of this school year. After putting her to bed a half-hour earlier, the tantrums have faded. I've definitely seen an improvement in her ability to get through the day with fewer emotional outbursts.

More bedtime tips

Have a consistent bedtime routine that is calming and relaxing. Ours always ends with snuggles and reading books in bed. Make sure you have said "good night" to all screens a half-hour before the bedtime routine starts.

This includes TVs, iPads, iPhones, computers anything electronic. Studies have shown that our brains (children's in particular) need time to wind down, and these screens are just too stimulating.

Talk to your kids about the importance of sleep. How during sleep, their brains make new connections and commit important information to memory. Or how their bodies literally need sleep to grow since growth hormone spikes while sleeping. Make it relevant to them and involve them in the process of prioritizing sleep.

Twenty-seven minutes and a calming bedtime routine? It's my prescription for a happier and healthier child.

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