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Healthy eating, good night's sleep really do help kids learn

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(HealthDay News) -- Backing what many parents already believe, experts say that healthy eating and good sleep habits can help youngsters do well at school.

"Your brain can't work if you're not consuming enough calories, and in general that's not a problem," Krista Casazza, an assistant professor in the nutrition sciences department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a university news release. "But when kids go to school without eating breakfast, their [thinking and learning skills] can be affected."

Children should start the day with fruits, proteins and whole grains. They should avoid sugary cereals because they cause a sugar high followed by a crash.

"A balanced breakfast will fuel the body for a long period and help sustain their attention level through lunch, when they need to eat well again," Casazza said. "This will hold them until dinner, and they won't snack ravenously after school."

If their kids do need to eat something before dinner, parents can offer healthy choices such as yogurt, fruits and vegetables. Baked chips, in moderation, can be an option if children want "kid stuff." For a drink, give them water instead of soda.

Sleep is another important part of success at school.

"Children need a good night's sleep for their overall school performance," Kristin Avis, an associate professor in the pulmonary and sleep medicine division in the pediatrics department at UAB, said in the news release.

"Lack of sleep can lead to problems with attention and memory in the classroom, affect impulse control and mood regulation [and] lead to anxiety and even depression," she explained.

Children aged 6 to 12 should get nine hours sleep per night, as should teens aged 13 to 18. However, they typically average little more than seven hours per night, Avis said.

"Often parents think one night of sleep loss won't matter, but that's all it takes to affect them the next day," she said. "If they are chronically deprived, it can snowball and make matters worse."

Trying to catch up on lost sleep on the weekend can compound the problem.

"If kids sleep in Saturday, they have a hard time going to bed Saturday night; so they sleep in Sunday and have a hard time going to bed Sunday night. Monday morning they are tired, and it's hard to wake up for school. They struggle to get back on a good sleep schedule," Avis said.

Children and teens need a consistent bedtime seven days a week.

"It keeps their clock set so they can go to bed at a certain time, sleep well through night and wake up well rested the next morning," Avis said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the ABCs of raising safe and healthy children.

Health News Copyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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