One of the biggest problems plaguing children today is a lack of sleep. Children entering middle school and continuing through high school are usually involved with social activities, sports and other clubs and also dealing with a great deal of homework.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends children ages 6-13 get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep a night. Teenagers should get between 8 and 10. So many studies have found that school children do not get enough sleep at night, and the consequences affect everything from their schoolwork and athletic performance to their overall health and well-being.

For one, not getting enough sleep has been proven to lead to things like unhealthy eating habits. A lack of sleep can cause acne, as well, at a time when teens are already experiencing a surge of hormones. Things like forgetting facts and things they’ve studied can lead to poor performance on tests and increased anxiety. Poor sleeping patterns can even contribute to things like ADD/ADHD.

The truth is, though, that sometimes making sure your child gets enough sleep is very difficult; particularly if your child suffers from anxiety over social issues or school work. Busy schedules and packed weekdays can cause our kids to struggle to get everything done – craving a bit of downtime before they fall asleep at night.

It’s important to stress how vital sleep is with your kids. Make sure your kids understand the need for a routine, even as they grow older and start handling more responsibilities. Things like caffeine and too much sugar can alter children’s sleep schedules. Also, making sure your kids stick to a routine is helpful for making sure they are getting the recommended amount of sleep. Encouraging your kids to shut off all electronics at LEAST an hour before bedtime will help them fall asleep easier.

It’s helpful to recognize signs of lack of sleep with your kids. If your kids are acting out or seemingly more irritable than usual, if you are having big blow ups at night over homework or tears about little things, or if you notice your child is starting to struggle in a subject that once seemed manageable, pay close attention to how many hours of sleep your kids are actually getting at night. Sometimes, things might need to be eliminated from a schedule. If too many sports and activities are causing exhaustion, it might be time to cut back.

At the same time, help your child understand that sleep is not a punishment. It’s simply something that keeps their bodies and minds functioning at full capacity, especially at a time when their bodies are growing and changing so rapidly.

Limor Weinstein is a Mental Health Counselor and a certified eating disorder specialist. She previously worked as a Primary Therapist at The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy – Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia and at Behavior Therapy of New York. She offers services in the arenas of family wellness (body image concerns, eating disorders, parent coaching, life coaching and career counseling) as well as nanny management (family needs assessments, nanny selection and vetting, training, monitoring, reporting and nanny counseling). Her website is limorweinstein.com. She is also a director at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists.

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