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Sleep Deprivation and Today's Students

Life is full of distractions. Whether it is just a busy schedule or extracurricular activities, electronics, family time, or even a favorite television show, these activities can keep students from getting the rest they need to be successful at school. Sleep deprivation is a serious yet often overlooked problem for today’s students. By following a few simple suggestions, parents can help their children get the sleep they need to be successful students.

Beginning at an early age, parents can help their child create healthy sleeping habits and routines that will continue throughout his/her lifetime. Making sure that a child has a consistent sleep schedule is extremely important. A child’s bedtime and wake up time should be around the same time whether or not it is a school night. Having a consistent wake up time allows the body to build up adequate sleep pressure by the evening to help a child fall asleep quickly and at an appropriate time at night.

Another way to create a healthy sleeping habit is to create an atmosphere conducive to sleeping. A child’s bedroom should be a place of relaxation and quiet. His or her bedroom should also be a place of positive feelings. It is strongly encouraged not to use the bedroom as a place of punishment or confinement but rather a place of encouragement, positive feelings, and security.  The child may need a small nightlight or even a blanket or a stuffed animal to give him/her that sense of security, but a television should never be in a child’s bedroom. Additionally, the use of such simple elements as color choices, the temperature, or comfortable bedding can create a relaxing atmosphere.

There are several signs that children may exhibit if they are not getting an efficient amount of sleep. Parents need to be aware of their child’s mood; sleep deprivation can cause a child to be irritable, moody, and even cranky. Because the child is not getting enough sleep, he or she may not be able to control his/her mood, leading to frustration or becoming upset more quickly and easily. Other behavior, such as noncompliance and hyperactivity may also be an indicator of sleep deprivation. Not only will a child’s mood and behavior be affected by inefficient sleep, but his cognitive ability will also be affected. A child who is sleep deprived will have increased difficulty with his attention, memory, and creativity; all of which are important aspects of being successful at school.

Being a child is truly a fun and exciting time; it is also a time of learning and creating life-long habits. Parents have the ability to help their child develop healthy sleeping habits that will aid them during their school and professional careers. By being aware of their child’s sleeping atmosphere and the behaviors their child is exhibiting, parents can help their children avoid sleep deprivation and be successful students.

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Build a Better Breakfast

We all know the drill: kids wake up late and barely have time to get dressed and gather their backpacks before it’s time to leave for school. Many times children grab a breakfast bar and juice box, or skip eating all together. While it may seem like no big deal (they’ll have lunch in a few hours after all), studies show that eating a healthful, well-balanced breakfast can go a long way to helping kids do better in school, and increase performance, attendance, and concentration.

So what’s a busy parent to do? Start by getting the kids up 15 minutes earlier. Set out clothes and prepare backpacks the night before to gain more precious minutes in the morning. Then use that time to prepare a healthful breakfast. Here are some quick breakfast tips:

  • Hard boil a dozen eggs. Peel and keep them in a covered plastic container in the fridge. This makes it easy to grab a quick bite of protein before school.
  • Try yogurt with cereal instead of milk. Topping plain or vanilla yogurt with high fiber cereals, nuts, or dried fruit provides protein and a long-term energy source for your child. Try to stay away from yogurts with a lot of sugar and/or food colorings. If your child is looking for a sweeter taste, drizzle the yogurt with a bit of honey.
  • Buy whole wheat/high fiber products. Replace the white bread toast and frozen waffles with whole wheat versions. When topped with peanut butter they provide a long lasting protein punch, and most times children won’t know the difference.
  • Pre-wash and slice fruit the night before. This makes it easy to grab some berries or melon without the prep time.
  • Think outside the box. Why not make a ham and cheese sandwich? Eat a slice of cold veggie pizza? Leftovers from dinner often contain the protein and veggies your body needs, and they are already prepared! There’s no rule saying you have to eat bacon and eggs.

Something to remember when creating a nutritious breakfast is to stay away from high carbohydrate foods that are low in whole grains. Pancakes with syrup, or French toast made with white bread may be your family’s favorite breakfast, but don’t provide enough nutrients to jump start your child’s brain in the morning. Similarly, try to avoid sugary drink boxes or juices made mostly of high fructose corn syrup. Offer fresh orange juice, milk, or water instead.

Finally, spend those extra minutes in the morning sitting down with your children and eating a nutritious breakfast together. When you eat with your children, you send the message that starting your day with a healthful meal is a priority. It may take a few days to get into the habit of waking up earlier, but those 15 minutes will go a long way to helping your child succeed in school.