The Synchronous Relationship Between Physical Activity and Sleep

TL;DR: Physical activity significantly impacts children's sleep quality and overall well-being. It also reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep patterns, enhances cognitive functions like memory and problem-solving.
Amelia Protiva
3 min read

As parents and caregivers, we’re always on the lookout for ways to safeguard our children's health and well-being like providing them with nutritious meals and creating a loving and nurturing home environment. One major aspect of our children's health and happiness that may be overlooked is the connection between physical activity and sleep hygiene–the daily practices and habits that promote better rest.

In this article, we explore the synchronous relationship between physical activity and childhood sleep, spotlighting the benefits they can bring to your child’s physical and mental wellness.

Movement for Better Sleep in Childhood

Quality sleep is essential for your child's overall growth and development. It plays a crucial role in brain development, emotional regulation, and long-term physical health. A lack of adequate sleep can lead to a range of struggles for your child, including difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and a weakened immune system.

Understanding the value of rest for your child, let’s explore a few ways regular physical exercise can improve their sleep:

1. Adequate Energy Expenditure

Physical activity will help your child burn off their excess energy, which can make it easier for them to fall asleep at night in a timely manner and have a more restful night of sleep. When our kids engage in adequate active play and exercise, they are more likely to feel tired and readily fall asleep when bedtime comes. It may seem obvious, but a tired child is more likely to have a restful night.

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children get 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Physical movement should be age-appropriate and increase their breathing and heart rate. The hour of physical activity can be spread out into smaller time blocks throughout the day.

2. Reduced Anxiety and Stress

Kiddos can feel stressed and anxious too! The daily pressures of social interactions at school and with their peers can lead to the presence of stress hormones in their young bodies, similar to how adults experience stress. However, children often don’t express their stress verbally.

Creating space for them to regularly run and play physically is a vital stress reliever and promotes the release of endorphins, the body's feel-good hormones. Regular movement can help children manage their stress and anxiety levels, which in turn can lead to more peaceful and restorative sleep through the night

3. Improved Sleep Patterns and Enhanced Cognitive Function

Consistency is key. When children have a set time for physical play and exercise, their bodies tend to become accustomed to predictable windows of rest and wakefulness. With consistency, they also tend to experience more extended periods of deep sleep, which is when REM sleep occurs. This deep, uninterrupted sleep allows children to maximize their REM sleep and all the cognitive benefits that accompany it.

REM sleep is associated with memory consolidation and problem-solving abilities. Research shows that children who get enough REM sleep are better equipped to process and retain information from their daily experiences. Adequate sleep allows the brain to process information, consolidate memories, and enhance learning.

4. Improved Physical Well-Being

Incorporating the recommended amount of physical activity into your child's daily routine not only promotes better sleep but also improves their physical well-being. Active children are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, develop strong muscles and bones, and have a reduced risk of health issues such as obesity and diabetes.

Movement and rest have been shown to directly affect children’s muscle and bone development, cardiovascular health, mental well-being, and immune system. Having plenty of both can reduce chronic health risks over their lifetime.

5. Boosted Social Development

Physical activity, particularly in the form of team sports and group activities, is a vital catalyst for children's social development. These activities foster essential social skills, boost self-confidence, and create a sense of belonging among peers, all of which have a lasting impact on a child's emotional well-being.

Engaging in group activities can reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better sleep patterns when they go to bed with a sense of fulfillment and emotional stability. Striking a balance between physical activity and adequate sleep is crucial, as these intertwined elements collectively contribute to your child's holistic development, nurturing their physical and social well-being and setting a foundation for a healthy and happy future.

In conclusion, the connection between physical activity and sleep hygiene in children is a powerful duo that profoundly impacts their immediate and long-term well-being. Encouraging them to be active and creating space to be active together as a family will not only promote better sleep but also foster their development. Striking the right balance between physical activity and adequate sleep sets the stage for your child's long-term well-being, nurturing both their physical and social development, and paves the way for a full, healthy life.

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