As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and shelter-in-place restrictions stay in effect, families are settling into a new routine, one that for most allows for more time to relax and spend time together. But all of this extra time at home can also increases the likelihood that children may develop unhealthy habits like excessive screen time, poor sleeping habits, and not getting enough exercise, all of which can impact their ability to learn. School-age children between the ages of 6 and 13 get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep each night, and older teens need about 9 hours. Falling short of that can cause irritability and mood swings in the short term, and over the long term may contribute to behavioral issues such as ADHD. A few simple tips can help safeguard the health of your kids and teens.

Designate a space and time for learning: One of the main causes of insomnia and poor sleep in kids and teens is that they often spend too much time in bed doing homework or playing video games, which causes their minds to associate their beds with activity rather than sleep or periods of rest. Choose a place where the children can do their schoolwork, such as the kitchen table, living room or porch, and leave the bed for sleeping and reading.

Incorporate daily exercise: During a normal school day, most kids are in constant motion, whether it’s participating in gym class, sports practice, or simply walking between classes. This physical activity helps encourage deeper, more restful sleep. Now, being sedentary at home may make it more difficult for them to fall asleep at night. Encourage kids to play outside as much as possible, and incorporating exercise into family activities such as yoga, neighborhood walks or backyard sports.

Maintain a schedule: As tempting as it may be stay up late watching movies and sleep later in the morning, maintaining a schedule close to what they would follow during the regular school year will keep their days (and nights) running more smoothly.

It may be hard to believe now, but one day schools will reopen and we’ll all be thrown back into a routine. That transition will be smoother if you maintain some structure in your day-to-day lives now.

Allow your children to participate in creating a daily schedule, which makes them feel engaged in what you and the family are up to each day. Scheduled activities are also a perfect time for families to play board games, put puzzles together, or learn new hobbies, while also allowing for dedicated learning time and set bedtimes.

Nip overindulgence in the bud: If you’ve been relaxing the rules on screen time, rein it back in sooner rather than later.

The longer these disruptive habits go on, the more difficult they will be to break,

Not sure how much is too much? Anything that begins to affect a family’s schedule or the child’s sleep is probably something that needs to stop.

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Article by: Mohamed Saad, M.D.

Mohamed Saad, M.D., is a pulmonologist with UofL Physicians, specializing in critical care medicine, pulmonary disease and sleep medicine. In addition to his hospital and office practice, Dr. Saad serves as associate professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and chief medical officer for the Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Fellowship. He was recognized as Faculty of the Year, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, 2009-2010. Dr. Saad received his medical degree in Egypt, followed by internships at Alexandria University Hospitals, the University of Illinois at Champaign, and Fairview Health System, where he also completed his residency. Dr. Saad was a fellow in pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at the University of Louisville Hospital. Professionally, he holds memberships with the Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Thoracic Society, the Physician Committee of Egypt, the Academy of Sleep Medicine, the American College of Chest Physicians and the American College of Physicians.

All posts by Mohamed Saad, M.D.
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