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Active children sleep better


A new study confirms what parents have long observed: the more active children are during the day, the faster they fall asleep at night. The study also found that children who fall asleep faster tend to stay asleep for longer.

What do we know already?

As many as 1 in 6 parents of school-aged children say that their child has difficulty going to sleep. This may lead to poor sleep habits, such as watching TV in bed and going to bed later, which can mean less sleep overall. Getting enough sleep is important for everyone, but especially for children. Studies link lack of sleep to poor performance in school and a higher risk of obesity and other health problems.

Sleep researchers are keen to learn why some children sleep better than others, and how to help children get a good night’s rest. In the new study, researchers looked at one factor widely believed to influence a child’s sleep: how much physical activity they get during the day.

What does the new study say?

The study included 519 healthy 7-year-olds from New Zealand who were part of a larger study tracking their development since birth. Each child wore a device called an actigraph for 24 hours. An actigraph records movement, providing an objective measure of a child’s activity level and sleep time. Parents also noted when their child went to bed, which allowed researchers to calculate how long after bedtime children actually fell asleep.

The researchers found a wide variation in how quickly children got to sleep, with some taking as little as 13 minutes and others needing more than 40 minutes after going to bed. Children who were more physically active during the day fell asleep more quickly than their less active peers. On average, children took an extra three minutes to fall asleep for every hour they weren’t active.

The researchers also found that children who fell asleep faster slept longer overall. On average, children got one extra hour of sleep for every 11-minute drop in how long they took to get to sleep.

How reliable are the findings?

This study was large and well done. Importantly, researchers used an actigraph to measure children’s physical activity and sleep time, rather than relying on parents to record this information. This makes the results more reliable.

However, this type of study isn’t designed to show cause and effect, so it can’t prove that children went to sleep faster because they were more physically active. Conceivably, there could have been something else about active children that helped them get to sleep faster. Or it might have been the other way around – children who get to sleep easily might have more energy to be active during the day.

Still, the study does show a strong link between sleep and activity, which researchers will look into further.

Where does the study come from?

The study was done by researchers in New Zealand and Australia and was funded by several research foundations in New Zealand. It appeared in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, which is published by the BMJ Group.

What does this mean for me?

This study’s findings may be of interest to you if your child has difficulty falling asleep at night. It makes logical sense that children who are active during the day will be more tired and ready for sleep at night.

We also know that physical activity is vital for children for other reasons, such as maintaining a healthy weight and building strong bodies.

What should I do now?

If your child has difficulty falling asleep, you might take a look at how much physical activity they’re getting. If they’re not very active, consider increasing their daily exercise. For example, you might start walking with them to school rather than driving, or encourage them to play a sport. The extra physical activity will be good for their health in general, and might help them sleep better, too.

Source The Guardian

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