Outdoor activities are a great way to keep your kids busy. But did you know they can also impact the quality of sleep?
Because of the rise of gadgets, more and more children around the world are becoming sleep-deprived. But outdoor play could be a healthy way to improve this situation and help your kid get some rejuvenating shut-eye.
Keep reading to learn how active play outside will help your child sleep better and find out what you can do to maximise the effect.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation on a Child’s Body
It’s not a surprise that chronic sleep deprivation poses a lot of threats to an adult organism, but in children, it can get even more dangerous.
Kids depend on proper sleep because their bodies are still developing, so not getting enough rest may lead to various adverse effects:
- Decreased mental performance. During the REM stage of sleep, the brain processes and converts the obtained information into memories. Sleep deprivation decreases the percentage of REM sleep and thus adversely impacts the intellectual performance of your kid, which may result in difficulty learning things and hence lower grades.
- Obesity. Sleep deprivation impacts insulin production and may lead to insulin resistance. Also, when a child is sleep-deprived, he or she may opt for easy energy in the form of sweets and junk food. This 2015 review confirms there is a connection between sleep deprivation and weight problems in early childhood.
- Poor emotional regulation. Night-time sleep affects daytime mood and might be responsible for poor emotional control. When a child lacks sleep, their brain’s prefrontal cortex cannot effectively suppress amygdala, an emotional center, which makes them more impulsive and prone to anger tantrums and alienating behavior.
- Weakened immunity. Sleep regulates the function of the immune system by decreasing the inflammation markers in the blood and producing specific proteins called cytokines, which help fight pathogens. When your kid is sleep-deprived, cytokines concentration in their blood drops, making them more likely to catch a cold.
Also note: Sleep-deprivation and excessive tiredness may trigger some sleep disorders called parasomnias. In kids, the most common parasomnias are somnambulism, night terrors, and sleep talking.
The Main Benefits of Outdoor Play for Sleep
Although the effects of sleep deprivation on children may sound intimidating, you can reduce or completely eliminate these issues by incorporating daily outdoor playing sessions into your child’s life.
Here’s why they’re great.
No matter what type of activity your kid chooses, chances are that they will move a lot. And moving is the best way to prevent sleep deprivation and promote good sleep.
Physical activity allows your kid to blow off some steam and get tired, so they will naturally become sleepy by night-time.
Outdoor play boosts endorphins, our happy molecules, and increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These substances are well-known for their calming and sleep-promoting effects.
Outdoor play is a great way to make new friends and sharpen social skills. Kids who lack communication with their peers may often feel lonely and anxious, which doesn’t contribute to better sleep. So, having active time with friends can be incredibly helpful.
Sunlight and Circadian Rhythm
Another benefit of outdoor play, especially during the early afternoon, is exposure to natural sunlight. Kids need sunlight for several reasons:
- it boosts the production of vitamin D, which is crucial for a child’s growth and development;
- sunlight regulates circadian rhythms and helps your little one keep alert during the day and become naturally sleepy towards the evening hours;
- sunlight impacts mood and may help alleviate anxiety, which is important for healthy sleep.
Even jumping in puddles on a rainy day is not only fun but also beneficial for your child’s sleep. Just make sure to provide your kid with a raincoat and rubber boots so that they won’t get wet.
Nature Is Soothing
Playing in the open air, among nature, is a soothing practice by itself. Watching the clouds, swaying branches or ripples on the river may provide a calming effect. Plus, fresh air typically has more oxygen, while indoor environments tend to make our bodies work harder to get oxygen, which may increase heart rate and blood pressure.
What Else Can You Do?
Outdoor playing is great, but it’s just one factor among the many that may help your kid get a good night’s sleep.
To make even more from this type of activity, you can pair it with simple changes in your child’s lifestyle, such as the following:
- Implement a sleep routine. Try to get your kid to sleep at the same time daily, and watch if they get the needed amount of sleep. Also, you can add a soothing activity right before bed, such as taking a warm bath or reading a book together.
- Limit screen time. In other words, trade screen time for ‘green time.’ Limit any gadgets, including the TV and smartphone, at least an hour before bedtime.
- Manage stress. Let your child know that they’re not alone and make sure they understand that if they have any bothering thoughts or ideas, they can talk to you. Teaching your child to keep a diary may be a good idea - and if the situation gets serious, set up an appointment with a child psychologist.
Richard is a father of 2 amazing boys. He has been dealing with sleep issues all
his adult life.
He has tried and tested countless remedies and can be easily considered an
expert in this field.