We live in a culture that suffers from sleep deprivation and fatigue, though it may the price we have to pay for efficiency and productivity. At times, this lack of sleep can sometimes verge on being a point of pride.

However, not getting enough sleep can have adverse effects on our physical and emotional health, can lead to serious consequences. Even in light of this, we still seem to plug along in our daily with inadequate amounts of rest.

The Importance of Sleep

Health experts are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of sleep, or conversely, the negative health consequences of not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to such chronic health problems as heart disease, diabetes, and even depression.

Now, researchers are beginning to realize that this situation is particularly relevant for children, whose busy schedules and late-night activities (TV and video games) prevent them from getting enough sleep.

Sleep, Obesity, and Suicide

A recent article on MSNBC.com described new research that linked sleep deprivation to excessive weight gain in children. The findings are especially relevant in light of the fact that one in six children in this country is considered obese.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, examined the sleep habits of 300 children between the ages of 4 and 10 years. What they observed was that children prone to obesity tended to sleep for fewer hours and had sleep patterns that were not as regular as their thinner peers.

Researchers believe that lack of sleep causes kids to eat more and exercise less, thereby compounding the problem. In fact, the increase in obesity over the last 50 years has coincided with children getting less sleep.

In a related article, teenagers who admitted to having either thought about or attempted suicide were also more likely to have suffered from sleep disorders. The study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, followed nearly 400 boys and girls over the course of three years. Subjects answered questions regarding their sleep patterns in conjunction with whether or not they had tried to harm themselves.

What they found was that teenagers (15 to 17 years of age) who had suicidal thoughts were more likely to have had sleep problems, but not all children who had abnormal sleep patterns had suicidal thoughts. The findings support similar results found in adults, though the authors stress that the data does not prove that sleep problems lead to suicidal tendencies, but that the two often occur together.

Getting More Sleep

Regardless of what conclusions can be drawn from the research, it simply goes without saying the kids need sleep, and plenty of it. In the busy world that they live it, this is not always so easy.

It is therefore up to parents to make sure their kids get enough rest. With this in mind, here are some ways to help parents make sure this happens.

  1. Eat supper at a reasonable time. Late dinners that result in kids going to be right after meals can make sleep difficult.
  2. Don't allow late night snacking. Again, when kids (and adults) go to bed with a full stomach, especially when it involves sugary snacks, it can disrupt sleep and result in tired children.
  3. Provide healthy foods. Whether it is for supper or snacks, encouraging wholesome eating habits is always a good idea.
  4. Reduce screen time before bed. Too much TV and computer use can actually affect the brain in a way that makes sleep difficult.
  5. Set limits to nighttime activities. Most of us lead busy lives, and the evening is the time to wind things down and relax before going to be. Getting wound up defeats this purpose.
  6. Reduce their stress. Putting excessive pressure on kids or over-scheduling their lives can make them anxious, which in turn can impair their ability to relax and get to sleep.
  7. Be firm and consistent. Setting a reasonable hour to go to bed and sticking with it will help kids develop healthy sleeping routines.
  8. Start when they're young. Establishing good sleep habits at an early age is much easier than trying to get older kids to do what you ask them to.

Like nutrition and exercise, sleep is an extremely part of a child's development, and one that parents and kids alike should be aware of. So take the proper steps to ensure that your children are getting the sleep that they need.

For more information about the importance of sleep, visit the website for the Sleep Foundation and Kid's Health.

Related Reading: