Three ways to help your kids stay sharp throughout the school year
Hint: Exercise, sleep and screen limits
We often worry about keeping our kids’ brains sharp during the summer months, but giving them the tools to succeed during the school year is just as important.
According to a new study, three often-debated habits—sleep, exercise and recreational screen time—have a huge impact on developing language skills, memory, planning ability and mental quickness—all traits of a good student.
Though these three factors have been on most parents’ radar for years, experts say that having numerical data, like that in the study, can help you incorporate healthy habits into your routine at home.
The research showed that children performed better on tests when they received nine to 11 hours of sleep, 60 minutes of physical activity and two hours or less of recreational screen time per day.
Here’s why sleep, exercise and screen limits are so important, as well as a few tips to help you get those hours in.
We all need our beauty sleep, especially those with growing bodies.
“Sleep improves immunity and allows our brains’ nerve cells and neurons to repair,” said Dr. Shaifali Gupta, a Geisinger pediatrician at Geisinger Nanticoke-Pediatrics. “Those neurons improve memory and cognition to help kids perform in school.”
Sleep also assists with mood and the release of growth hormones that will help kids get bigger and stronger.
But getting kids to sleep isn’t always easy. Having and maintaining a routine is one of the simplest ways to get them into bed on time.
“With a regular schedule, your child’s body will adapt to their usual bedtime and make them feel tired,” said Dr. Gupta.
This might help with those “time-for-bed” protests. Avoiding meals, caffeine and electronics within two hours of bedtime is also helpful.
- Screen Time
Excessive time spent using electronic devices has been repeatedly linked to decreased mental and emotional development, which can quickly trickle down to the classroom.
“In addition to a concerning lag in active play and social development, the glare of screens may keep your child from falling asleep,” said Dr. Gupta. “That’s two strikes against too much screen time.”
It’s recommended that kids get two hours or less of screen time each day, and experts say that parents should set clear limits for screen time that are not negotiable.
To help reinforce those time limits, set a good example by avoiding bad tech habits at home.
Active play and fitness are important to keep bones and muscles strong, but they can also keep the brain sharp.
“Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain,” said Dr. Gupta. “It also releases feel-good chemicals that improve mood, attention span and cognition.”
Scheduling a play date with friends or joining a recreational sports league can help your kids get active, but activities such as playing in the yard or running with the dog are just as effective.
“Independent play lets your child use their imagination. That’s great for mental development,” said Dr. Gupta. “Plus, all that activity is sure to tire them out by bedtime.”
Have concerns about your child’s sleep habits or patterns?
Our pediatricians are focused on your little (or big!) one’s health. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Gupta or another caring Geisinger pediatrician by visiting Geisinger.org or calling 1-800-230-4565.