Play Hard, Sleep Well

Healthnotes Newswire (September 17, 2009)— Trouble getting the kids to bed at night? Exercise could be the answer. Children who are more physically active during the day are more likely to fall asleep quickly at bedtime, according to a report in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. “These findings emphasize the importance of physical activity for children, not only for fitness, cardiovascular health, and weight control, but also for promoting good sleep,” said the study’s authors.

Sleep for health

The importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. For children, less sleep can also lead to shorter stature; it’s during the sleeping hours that hormones are released that promote proper growth. During sleep is also when most healing takes place. So what predicts how quickly children fall asleep and how much sleep they ultimately get?

Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, aimed to determine the factors linked to the time it takes to fall asleep once in bed (sleep latency) in children. Gathering data from 519 children (average age 7 years) who took part in the Auckland Birthweight Collaborative, they found that the average sleep latency time was 26 minutes. More physical activity was associated with shorter sleep latency times, while time spent in sedentary activity (like sitting on the couch or in the car) was associated with longer sleep latency. For every hour during the day spent in sedentary activity, it took the children three minutes longer to fall asleep at night. Shorter sleep latency times were also associated with longer total sleep duration.

Carving the time to play

The study “provides evidence to support a long-held parental belief that physical activity promotes sleep in children,” the team commented. But with the trend in many schools towards cutting recess and physical education programs, children have less opportunity during the day to get the exercise that their minds and bodies need.

Help make exercise a priority for your family.

Go for a bike ride together after school. Children are more likely to pick up the exercise habit if you’re active, too. Plus, it’s more fun together.

Plan day hikes on the weekends. Let your kids help pick the destination. If a whole day is too difficult to schedule, look for some fun city walks to local destinations of interest. Get out a map of your town or city and take turns picking places to visit.

Ask your children’s school to keep scheduled physical activity times during the day. We can’t afford to lose this opportunity for our children.

(Arch Dis Child 2009;doi:10.1136/adc.2009.157453)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.

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