Thursday, May 13, 2010

Like a Lullaby to My Ears: For Happier, Smarter, *and* Thinner Kids, Add Sleep

Whenever I go to the pediatrician's, I pick up all the random handouts they have for parents. Aside from reading all their magazines (and sometimes leaving with them), this is one of my knee-jerk habits. I figure if they have a handout, it’s ‘cause so many parents have asked the same question they figured they needed to. There was a good one, too, titled “Effects of Family Meals, Sleeping and Screen Time on Obesity in Preschoolers”. Basically, the office had synthesized info from the March 2010 issue of Pediatrics' article, “Household Routines and Obesity in U.S. Preschool-Aged Children.” There were three household routines: “regularly eating family meals, getting adequate sleep, and limiting screen-viewing time” that were linked to lowered risk of obesity among children.

Now, this comes close to home for me. My older daughters are in the high end the BMI spectrum, despite pretty good eating habits and bodies that look solid rather than chubby, so I am on the lookout for Good Habits. I am a firm believer in family meals for a whole litany of reasons, both personal and general (I have seen links between family meals and a retinue of desirable consequences, including academic performance); I try to enforce TV limitations strictly (though I don’t eliminate it altogether and we’re in a culture where even limits are hard with screens everywhere you turn). But I love the sleep thing, especially—who’d a thunk it? Getting sleep helps you not be fat? How…affirming! It also taps into the second great chapter of NurtureShock, where the authors document a whole host of amazing (and somewhat disturbing) effects of our children’s loss of sleep. That chapter notes how throughout the country, children get an hour less of sleep than they did a generation ago. The same period has seen tremendous increases in child obesity. While physical activity is important and helpful to children, sleep is also key in keeping their bodies in balance. Children who get more sleep are thinner, as well as happier and smarter. Dr Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is particularly useful reading if you’re wondering about that happier thing).

Sleep appears to be hugely important for a whole host of important brain functions, including some that we’re only becoming aware of now. There are regulatory and memory functions that depend on sleep for their completion. Sleep is essential to processing things learned during the day, for example. So “getting a good night’s sleep before a test” is surprisingly sound advice (if only I had realized that in college...)
It’s giving me even more incentive to make sure my kids get some sleep. Maybe with time, I can figure out how to work that out for myself as well….

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