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Expert sleep strategies for kids age 5 and up

Expert sleep strategies for kids age 5 and up


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As children outgrow naps, cribs, and lullabies, they gain an important skill: reasoning. That development changes almost everything when it comes to helping them sleep, and children ages 5 to 12 still need plenty – 10 to 12 hours a night. "Parents have less direct control over making older children sleep, so it becomes about making them a partner and teaching them the importance of getting a good night's rest," says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution.

To help kids ages 5 and up get more sleep:

Appeal to their logical side

At this age, children are old enough to understand that the hormones they need to grow are released during sleep, so let them know that getting a good night's rest will help them reach their full height, says Pantley. Use similar logic for explaining how to do well in school or sports: When they get a good night's sleep, their brain is better able to remember what they learned at school that day, and their body performs better on the baseball field.

Curb night-owl behavior

Staying up too late is a common pitfall for grade-schoolers. Parents often contribute to the problem because they want to spend more time with their kids at the end of the day. Do the bedtime math. "If your child needs 11 hours a night, and she tends to wake up at 7 a.m., then she needs to be asleep by 8 p.m.," says Kim West, author of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight.

Offer a sleep-inducing snack before bed

Get your child ready for sleep by giving him a healthy snack an hour before bedtime. Some foods naturally spark a release of serotonin and melatonin, the body's built-in sleep inducers: Offer a glass of milk, a piece of whole wheat toast with a slice of cheese, half a peanut butter sandwich, or oatmeal with bananas.

Steer your kids away from caffeinated drinks

A recent study reports that about 75 percent of school-age children drink caffeinated beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks. Caffeine disrupts sleep, of course, but there's another reason to consider eliminating it from their diet: Caffeinated beverages have been linked to neurological and cardiovascular problems in children.

Schedule time for homework earlier

Kids who wait until the last minute to do homework often stay up too late and are groggy the next day. Schedule a regular work time instead, either right before dinner or right after, suggests Mary Ann LoFrumento, a pediatrician and author of Simply Parenting: Understanding Your Newborn & Infant. "Leave your child plenty of time to play sports, run around, or just relax after a long day at school, but make sure to wrap up homework by 7:30 or 8 p.m." If your child consistently has trouble with a heavy homework load, talk to her teacher.

Make your child’s bed comfortable

Most adults spend hours picking the perfect mattress for their own bed, but accept whatever mattress comes with their child's bed, says Pantley. Her suggestion? Lie down on your child's bed for 30 minutes. Ask yourself: Is it comfortable? How's the pillow? Is the blanket soft and cozy? Make it a place you'd want to sleep.

Rule out medical problems

Children can have medical conditions that interfere with sleep. Up to 12 percent of kids snore habitually, and 2 percent have obstructive sleep apnea. (In this disorder, the airway becomes blocked, reducing or restricting airflow and rousing the child from a deep sleep.) Although many children will outgrow these problems, ask your child's doctor for help if your child snores heavily or is excessively sleepy during the day.

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