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How to set your kids up for a healthy year -pt. 1

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness month, so I wanted to dedicate the next few posts to helping provide strategies for children to lead healthier lives.

I asked a friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Lynn Gettleman Chehab, to provide insight and strategies around the topic. Dr. Chehab is a pediatrician with a focus on healthy weight management and has been practicing for over 20 years.

Enjoy!

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I am often asked, “What are 1 or 2 things that I can do to help my child be healthier?” Having your child adopt a few simple habits now can improve their energy, mood, grades, and sports performance, while setting them up for a lifetime of better health. Over the next few posts I’m going to provide three different habits to prioritize.

Habit #1: Prioritize Sleep

Sleep is a secret weapon. We know that poor sleep is associated with low energy, increased blood sugar, and decreased immune function. Poor sleep can directly impact memory, mood, and grades. But many people don’t know that slight increases in sleep boost sports performance. In a 2011 study of the Stanford men’s basketball team, increasing their sleep to about an average of 8 hours a night improved their 3 point and free throw shots improved by 9 percent in just 7 weeks! And this makes sense—in addition to its importance in muscle recovery, sleep is crucial for consolidating memory of important plays and drills, not to mention academic concepts.

How to help your children sleep better?

1) Have a set bedtime that does not vary too much on weekends. If your teen stays up until 2 am on a Saturday and sleeps in until 11 am the next day, it is very likely that she will have a hard time falling asleep before midnight on Sunday and it will take her days to catch up.

2) Ideally, put that phone away an hour before bedtime! Even on “sleep mode”, just seeing a phone is incredibly stimulating and can impair getting into a deep restful sleep. Have a family docking location in a central area outside of everyone’s bedrooms. Each family can commit to a “bedtime” for their phone.

3) Help your child develop a sleep time routine—reading, bath, shower, listening to music—whatever it is (and it should avoid screens), signals the body to wind down and prep for a deep restful sleep.

4) Our sleep rooms should be like a cool dark cave—quality shades are a good investment!

5) Teens should get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep a night (ideally 9) and younger children 9-10. This can be very hard with sports, homework, and activities. It takes about 3 days to recover from a bad night’s sleep. If possible, prioritize sleep over early morning workouts, especially within a few days of meets, tournaments, and games. Many high school athletic directors are recognizing the importance of good sleep and are limiting early morning lifts and practices.

Back soon with parts 2 and 3!

– Dr. Lynn Chehab