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6 Ways Sleep Keeps Kids Healthy

Happier thoughts
Losing half an hour of sleep may not seem like much, but regularly missing that amount over two years added up to increased feelings of depression and lower self-esteem among a group of eighth-graders, according to new research from the University of Massachusetts. Sleep loss is normal as kids enter adolescence, but it's a good idea to keep an eye on their shut-eye -- losing too much could take a toll on kids' mental health over time.

Heartier hearts
A kid who snores could actually be harming his ticker. Compared to quiet sleepers, even mild snorers had higher blood pressure and heart rates when asleep and awake, reports a new Australian study. Researchers suspect that waking up a lot at night plus taking in less oxygen as a result of the snoring could be what's at fault. If you've got a consistent little snorer on your hands, it may be time to see the doctor.

Healthier weight
Toddlers who logged fewer than 12 hours of daily sleep were twice as likely to be overweight by age 3 than those who slept more, according to Harvard Medical School researchers. Another study found that each extra hour of sleep kids got beyond what's recommended lowered their risk of being overweight by 9 percent. The lesson: "It's not that all kids should sleep a lot," assures Harvard study author Elsie Taveras, M.D. "It's that distractions -- like a TV in the bedroom -- can keep them from getting what they need."

Sharper minds
"With enough sleep, a child typically uses three or four areas of the brain to complete a task," says Dennis Molfese, Ph.D., who researched the sleep schedules and response rates of kids ages 4 through 8. But sleep loss makes the brain less coordinated and efficient -- and it doesn't take much to have an impact. Skipping only one hour of nightly sleep for just a week can have a significant effect on kids' ability to concentrate.

Stronger immunity
More snoozing may mean less sniffling for your kid. Studies in adults show that skimping on eight hours of nightly sleep made them almost three times more likely to catch a cold. "We expect that a lack of sleep could mean a weaker immunity in kids, too," says Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. So if your child is surrounded by sickies at school, get her in the sack a little earlier.

Fewer boo-boos
Have a particularly accident-prone kid? Take a closer look at her sleep habits. Tired kids have twice as many injuries as their well-rested peers, say scientists at the University of Rochester School of Nursing.

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