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Sleep Awareness Week: A New Bedtime Routine for Children

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Growing up in the '60s had its challenges, but looking back they seem so minor. My hometown was very small so it was common for kids to walk home from school, stop at a friend's house or a park and not arrive home until dinnertime. After dinner, kids would meet up outside to practice everything from basketball to baseball and the best sport of all, kick-the-can. We arrived home just before the "street lights" came on to avoid being grounded by mom and dad. We were exhausted and bedtime was always welcome. Routine was common, from the time we woke up, lunchtime, dinnertime, homework time, bath time, and the time we got into bed. Our circadian clock, which is so well-timed with the rotation of the Earth, seemed to enjoy and thrive on our daily, well-timed routine.

Today, the only thing routine in a kid's day may be the rotation of the Earth! Kids hang out on Facebook or "talk" via text messaging. Dinner is eaten on the run between school activities or sporting events. Bedtime is adjusted depending upon which child needs to be up latest for practices, games or school projects. Electronics in the bedroom keep kids engaged with friends long after the "street lights" come on for the night. Our need for sleep has been hardwired into our brain, but in just a few decades we have chosen to ignore this innate need and sacrifice our health and our kids' health along the way.

Sleep Awareness Week (March 3-10) should serve as a "wakeup call" for America, giving us the opportunity to get you and your child back on track to better sleep, health and learning. Here are five tips to get started.

1. Eliminate Electronics: Research has linked electronics use with sleep disturbances, and has also found an association between sleep deficiency and lower grades among children and teens. Children and teenagers who are sleep-deprived are more prone to obesity and to attention problems at school. Depression is also common and may be due to the lack of sleep. Everything from smartphones to tablets and laptops should be taken outside the room one hour before bedtime. If your child uses their phone as an alarm clock, this is easily solved -- purchase an inexpensive clock for an alarm instead. Televisions should not be allowed in the room, either.

2. Establish Routine: Bedtime should be maintained each night. You should not allow your child to stay up studying late into the night. Multiple research studies have shown that getting adequate sleep after studying increases retention and test scores. It is okay if your child has one night during the week that they need to be up later due to sports or school activities. Just make sure you help them manage their time by studying extra the night before.

3. Soak Before Sleep -- Nighttime Baths: A wind-down routine is crucial for a good night's sleep. A great option is warm baths or showers before bedtime, which may help increase the quality of sleep.

4. Ready the Bedroom -- Environment Counts: The bedroom should be designed for sleep! If you and your children have different bedtimes, have your children sleep with a "white noise" machine to drown out sound from those that are still awake. Keep the room temperature cool, around 68 degrees. Make sure the room is dark. If your child needs a nightlight, a "low blue light" nightlight is best, in my opinion, and can be easily purchased online. Make sure that your child is sleeping on a mattress that is supportive for their body type. Most parents spend very little money on mattresses for their kids, thinking that they can sleep on "anything and anywhere."

5. Prep for Bed: Have your children spend at least 30 minutes preparing for bed, but one hour is optimal. Make sure all electronics are off and dim the lights. Your child can read books or you can read to them. One of my favorite things to do is spend time talking with my kids. Talk about the day, what you and your children need to do tomorrow, and make plans for the future.

Our need for sleep has not changed with our desire for a less routine schedule. It is up to us as parents to institute these routines and instill good sleep habits that will last our children a lifetime!

For more by Dr. Robert Oexman, click here.

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