There is some new information on these topics to share, and to save me from sounding like a broken record. However, the message is the same: We all should practice proper sleep hygiene and we should make time to sit down and share a meal several times a week.
Two things have become clear that make these goals easier to obtain:
1. The amount of time your child is asleep is not as critical as the quality of the sleep, and
2. Healthy eating is important for physical health and eating together is important for emotional health.
A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health proved that a consistent bedtime correlates with higher academic scores. This study has been featured in many places lately, including the Wall Street Journal, because it conclusively shows that sleep patterns have huge effects on a child's ability to learn and function efficiently.
Researchers studied more than 11,000 children ages 3-7, and found that kids who had regular bedtimes performed better than those who did not. They even examined the amount of sleep versus the consistency of the routine, and found that a consistent sleep pattern was more important than the length of time a child sleeps.
Our bodies are very cyclic. Sleep studies are fascinating to look at, because the cycles of REM and non-REM sleep show up in a beautiful pattern no matter our age or current health status. When we are denied this ability to cycle, our brains and our bodies suffer greatly.
Sleep experts emphasize sleep hygiene as being critical to getting a child to sleep around the same time each night. Turn off all electronics an hour prior to sleep time. Never allow a television to be on while a child is falling asleep. Repeat the same tasks and stimuli to signal the brain to get ready for sleep. In a younger child this may mean reading books together, listening to quiet music, or a comforting bath. In an older child it may be reading for pleasure, taking a shower or talking quietly with a parent or sibling. Keep the environment the same by setting the thermostat to cool down at night, darkening the room with shades and surrounding the child with familiar items such as blankets or stuffed animals. Remember that children's brains are more sensitive to smell than adults', so pay attention to that forgotten sense by using creams and lotions with comforting smells at bedtime and washing sheets and blankets in the same detergents.
Another basic routine that is so hard to preserve is family dinner. There is a billboard on Chestnut Street reminding us that eating together means eating healthier. But I would take that one step further, and say eating together means healthier and happier.
Even the military agrees with me. Last Sept. 26, Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell issued a policy at Fort Hood Army Base decreeing that the work day shall not extend beyond 1700 hours — 5 p.m. — with the specific purpose of allowing soldiers time for family dinner.
While your children are not your military recruits, you are still the general of your household and you can take steps to mandate family dinner, too.
Interestingly, studies show that even sitting down together and eating take-out food accomplishes the goals of family dinner. While I can't advocate lots of fast food, you do not have to make a gourmet meal nor do you have to fight with your children to eat kale. You need to all sit in the same place at the same time, eat and talk. Topics should be open-ended and age-appropriate, and you should avoid grilling your child about recent successes or failures. Consider allowing your children to choose topics, and also use the time to discuss things that affect everyone like vacations, pets and even household chores.
"Would you Rather" is a quick and silly way to get kids engaged … in my house, where my boys have a penchant for the disgusting, it goes something like this: "Would you rather have a boogie hanging from your nose all day or have to wear your underwear on your head?" As you can see, you do not need to be discussing the Greek debt crisis to make family dinner beneficial; all you need to do is be present.
There is a delightful book, "The Family Dinner," by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt, that's full of information about the importance of family dinner, ideas on making the time and on making it fun and, of course, kid-friendly recipes. It makes a great gift for any busy family. I was thrilled to find a book that properly cherishes this important family time while offering practical advice.
Dr. Pia Fenimore, of Lancaster Pediatric Associates, answers questions about children's health on the Ask the Expert feature at LancMoms.com. You can submit questions there or by sending an email to Lifestyle@lnpnews.com.
Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/889112_The-routines-of-family-meals-and-sleep-take-time--but-the-benefits-are-great.html#ixzz2dmmsCnyB