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Lack of sleep means lack of concentration for children

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Those of us who grew up in the '50's and 60's remember that schools generally started around 9:00 a.m. This gave children time to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night, the recommended amount of rest as suggested by pediatricians.

Now the word has come down once more, as doctors demand that we go back to basics and allow children to sleep in since the largest group of pediatricians in the nation state that middle and high school classes should not begin until at least 8:30 a.m. They have seen too many cases of sleep deprivation and erratic sleep patterns in teens. Children just aren't sleeping enough to balance the physical and emotional changes that puberty bring to developing bodies.

With increasing age comes more homework, which cuts into relaxation time and may mean that teens get to bed too late at night while trying to balance a social life with academic prowess. Add the demands placed upon their bodies by sports and extra curricular activities and it's easy to understand that they simply need more rest. Children going through puberty need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night, and precious few are actually doing that.

Current trends show that approximately one out of every five children is getting enough sleep. Doctors are concerned enough to call it an "epidemic" and when you couple that with the fact that many Clark County kids don't get enough to eat, this poses a health risk as well.

How can children function in school and concentrate when they don't have enough rest? It's obvious that some parents find it easier to let kids stay up as long as they like and then have to drag them out of bed in the morning. Curfews don't make a difference with electronic devices, phones and games occupying what little time children have to play. Children arrive at daycare centers exhausted, wanting just to curl up in a corner and sleep. Children fall asleep at their desks, and when parents are confronted, there is the excuse that it was a special occasion. Perhaps, but when this happens on a consistent basis, it is of concern to teacher and physicians.

Young bodies need sleep to have the energy to grow. They need nutritious food and outside play to balance the needs of their bodies. Parents and caregivers need to ensure that children are given this opportunity.

So what is optimal sleep? With the ridiculously early school times in Las Vegas, elementary and middle-school aged children have to be in bed by 8:00 p.m. at the latest, to be able to get up for 6 a.m. We all know that they don't fall asleep immediately upon placing their heads on their pillows. A story, soft music or "white noise" may help them fall asleep more quickly. Teens obviously would be insulted if asked to be in bed by that time, but they should have "lights out and no exceptions" by 10:00 p.m. on school nights. There is no need for teens to be out and about after 9:00 p.m., unless they have a job. Later nights should be saved as treats on Friday and Saturday evenings, when children don't have to be up early the next morning. It's only common sense. Under no circumstances should children aged 5 and under be allowed to stay up after 8:00 p.m. if they have to go to daycare or preschool the next day.

There may be some struggles to begin with, but with more rest comes increased energy and mental acuity, so it's in a parent's best interest to be firm and consistent. Children need a "wall" to knock against (metaphorically speaking) in order to feel loved. Everyone wants a healthy child, and healthy food choices and enough rest are two of the building blocks upon which to build.

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