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For kids, healthy sleep means no screens

Tuesday - 1/14/2014, 6:23am  ET

KidSleeping2.jpg
To get healthy sleep, kids need to avoid technology before bedtime. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON - Here's the scenario: A child is glued to his Xbox, or maybe his iPhone or iPad and won't go to bed. Frustrated, mom or dad gives up the fight and walks away, letting the kid play just a little longer -- even though it's a school night.

But an expert on children's sleep says parents need to buck-up.

Dr. Daniel Lewin, associate director of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at Children's Medical Center, says he too has a child who wants to be on the computer constantly.

"It's simply modeling and limit setting, which is critical," Lewin says.

It comes down to parents limiting their own exposure to electronics, especially while in front of children. This helps show the behavior they'd like their kids to mimic.

Lewin says in a culture with constant access to electronic media, there's a lot of pressure to perform.

But "those kids who are on media devices to do their homework and when that's done right before bedtime they're impacting their sleep," says Lewin.

When it comes to kids, Lewin recommends making sure the electronics are off at least an hour before bedtime. That's because the light actually shuts down the biological process that initiates sleep.

"Sleeping with a dim light in the bedroom is fine. But sleeping with electronics on in the bedroom is really not optimal," Lewin says.

For children who take ADHD medication, Lewin says it's extra important to make sure he or she is getting a good night's sleep.

"Getting enough sleep at night is critical for attention, for regulation of emotion," says Lewin. He says it's really important to be able to recognize the signs of sleep disorder and to recognize the signs of inadequate sleep.

"We have a lot of kids who are on ADHD medications. We could start by optimizing sleep before putting kids on medications. Some certainly need it," Lewin says.

There's also a relationship between sleep deprivation and mood, including suicidal thoughts. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure, strokes and Type 2 diabetes.

Children around the ages of 12 and 13 should get 9.5 to 10 hours of sleep. Older children and adolescents should get about 9.5 hours of sleep.

And, Lewin adds, "The American Academy of Pediatrics has been very clear: no TVs in the bedroom and no electronics in the bedroom absolutely critical."

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