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Children need right amount of sleep (4-24-00)

Sleep deprivation isnít only affecting adults. In grade school classrooms across the nation, sleepy children can be found struggling to stay awake.

"If a child is getting enough sleep during the night, he should be alert and ready to learn throughout the day," says Robert Nolan, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "When a childís teacher tells the parent that his child is yawning or even dozing off during class, itís a red flag signaling that sleep habits need to be re-evaluated."

Many parents mistakenly think children automatically fall asleep once in bed, but thatís not always the case. Dr. Nolan says it is too much to ask of children who are kept busy with activities well into the evening to have good sleep habits. "Keeping children out at night with extracurricular activities, then rushing home to do homework and then scooting them off to bed doesnít work."

Like adults, children need a down time to relax and to get ready for bed. "About 30 minutes before putting children to bed, do calming activities such as reading, coloring or taking a bath to help them wind down," says Dr. Nolan. "Parents need to develop rituals in their childrenís lives so the children know what to expect. When they know what to expect, they do better."

Weekends often mean late bedtimes and sleeping late, which isnít a wise idea. "Parents have to remember consistency is the best method for raising children and this applies to bedtime," says Dr. Nolan. "Itís too much for children to be allowed to stay up late for two nights and then switch back to their regular shut-eye time on Sunday night. Theyíll be sleepy on Monday."

Parents must lead by example, Dr. Nolan says. "If the children see their parents staying up into the wee hours of the night watching television and not getting the proper amount of sleep, this makes an impression. The children are more likely to put up a struggle with bedtime."

How much sleep do children need? Dr. Nolan says parents can determine how much sleep a child needs by his alertness during the day. On the average, children from 7 to 16 need about nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, he adds.

Contact: Myong Covert