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Weston Dear Kristin, Sleep and Nutrition

Questions are submitted anonymously and/or reflect issues that affect the Weston community.

Q. Dear Kristin,

My teenager is extremely busy with school, activities, homework and sports. Sometimes he barely has time to eat. I am worried he doesn't get enough sleep and he will develop poor nutrition habits. What are some guidelines for sleep and nutrition for adolescents?

A. Sleep habits and nutrition are a concern for many parents. According to research, adolescents should get between 8 1/2 and nine hours of sleep per night. Anyone who has a teenager or is around them knows that often this is not the case. There are many negative effects of lack of sleep. Not only does a tired teen tend to be more anxious and irritable, but not getting enough sleep also has a direct correlation with lack of concentration and sleepiness in class. This lack of concentration can affect everything from retaining information while studying to forgetting names or tasks and lower grades.

It is interesting that you note the lack of sleep and poor food choices. Often teens who are tired will gravitate toward sweets and other unhealthy foods. This can lead to an overall sluggish feeling as well as to future weight gain. In addition, unhealthy eating can contribute to acne and other health concerns.

Obviously, many of the factors that contribute to lack of sleep in adolescents are unavoidable; however, there are some tips that may be helpful.

Help your child begin to "wind down" about an hour before he or she are set to go to sleep. This includes limiting or removing electronics. The more stimulation a person gets the harder it is to relax and fall asleep.

Have a schedule: Beginning a routine around sleep can help to trick the body into changing its own sleep pattern. A routine will contribute to an overall rested feeling in the morning.

Limit caffeine and encourage breakfast: While caffeine can provide for many a needed boost of "awakeness," too much caffeine can cause a person to "crash" in a relatively short amount of time. Even if it is something small, breakfast can be integral in concentration and memory. In addition, people who skip meals tend to snack more often, or overeat at the next meal, both of which can contribute to obesity.

Kristin Ferrara has been the Director of Youth Services in Weston since December 2008. She has a master’s in mental health counseling from Fairfield University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Fordham University. Kristin welcomes all input from parents and other Weston residents on issues affecting youth and families.

Do you have a question for Kristin? Ask it here .

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