Keeping a good sleep schedule and eating nutritionally balanced meals are essential for overall health, but they're especially vital for young children who are in the midst of developing their brains and bodies.

Why Bedtime Matters

Studies have shown that adequate sleep is crucial for healthy development of the brain and body during childhood. The younger your child, the more sleep he or she needs. Newborns can spend up to a whopping 18 hours sleeping, and that typically decreases to about 12 hours up until age five.

Children from ages five to 12 require at least 10-12 hours of sleep, but this is the time when sleep can become most difficult due to internet and TV use and drinking caffeinated beverages. Regularly inadequate sleep can result in lasting damage to cognitive function, hyperactivity and other behavioral issues, difficulty concentrating in school, and interference with the hormones that regulate satiety and hunger, potentially contributing to childhood obesity, so it's important for parents to curb bad sleeping habits as early as possible.

Establishing a bedtime routine half an hour to an hour before bed will help your child develop good habits such as bathing and brushing teeth, and gradually winding down instead of going to bed immediately will help him or her fall asleep more easily. To avoid unnecessary stimulation before bed, your child's room should be free of screens (TVs, computers, tablets, etc).

Why Nutrition Matters

Children's brains and bodies grow most rapidly from birth to age five, and poor nutrition during this period can cause lifelong problems with health and cognition. And just like with sleep, inadequate nutrition can result in problems concentrating in school and childhood obesity. The junk food that children are so fond of should be replaced as often as possible with healthy fruits and vegetables, and the CDC's fruit and vegetable calculator can help you determine how many servings your child should be eating.

Even if you're fully aware of how many servings of vegetables your child should be eating, convincing him or her to eat them is another matter entirely. Some practices will help you improve the eating habits of your entire family, such as sticking to a schedule of three meals and a couple of snacks every day, and having everyone at the table eat the same food instead of making a separate "kid-friendly" meal.

One of the most important things you can do to improve the sleep and eating habits of your children is to set a good example yourself. You might be surprised by how many of your habits, good or bad, that your children have picked up. By valuing your own health, they will learn to value theirs.

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