I think it’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in this country, whether you or a family member contracted the virus or how your daily life has changed in response. At the outset, one of the ways the pandemic changed daily lives for those with children was the very real quarantine that occurred. Today I’m talking about the role of physical activity in pediatric sleep.
Pandemic and reduced activity
Just over a year ago, the country ground to a halt. Schools and daycares closed, and people were told to quarantine at home, limiting their contact with others. In addition to this quarantine, businesses were forced to close, and playgrounds across the country were closed, some even taped-off; most parents would likely have been scared to bring their children to playgrounds, even if they were open.
News reports and state departments of health warned families against meeting with other groups outside their household. As a result, many children who frequently played with friends and others outside their home were left without playmates or outlets for exercise. And for parents trying to juggle the obligations of family with those of work, the lack of daycare meant that they needed to juggle working from home and keeping their toddlers active and engaged.
School-age children lost gym class and recess, and club and school sports were canceled. This left children of all ages without any physical outlet for their sometimes endless energy reserves. Paired with the stress of the disruption of everyday life, it’s understandable that many children have developed sleep issues in the past year.
Link between physical activity and pediatric sleep
Studies have shown a correlation between physical activity and sleep quality in children for years, but the outcome may be surprising to you. While I’d like to say that more exercise during the day means your little one will sleep better at night, that isn’t definitive. In fact, the association between physical activity and sleep is largely a matter of genetics and circumstance, and as with anything in life, there are always exceptions to the rule.
On average, most children will benefit from thirty to sixty minutes of physical activity per day. This means they will have sufficiently tapped into energy reserves and will have tired their bodies to a point where they fall asleep relatively quickly at bedtime and sleep well. However, you know your child best, so if you’re finding that your kiddo is having a difficult time after getting adequate exercise during the day, you may need to play with their schedule a bit.
One of the biggest takeaways from studies of the physical activity and pediatric sleep association is that moderate exercise during the day can help your child fall asleep faster. Too much exercise and you might find that your kiddo is wired when it comes to bedtime. This energy surge is due to the body releasing cortisol to provide a burst of energy; it’s a survival mechanism that engages when the body is overtired. This can start a cycle of poor sleep marked with fatigue or less physical exercise throughout the day and poor sleep at night.
If you’ve ever traveled with your little ones, you’ve likely experienced the sleep cycle I’m talking about. Let’s take Disney World as an example. Your little ones spend an exciting, yet long, day in the park – it’s magical, after all! When you get back to your hotel, your kiddos are quite literally bouncing off the walls. You’re exhausted, and you expected them to conk out as well. What you’re witnessing are the effects of being overtired.
The best way to master the physical activity and pediatric sleep connection is with balance and moderation. Moderate exercise can help most children fall asleep faster at bedtime. An abundance of exercise can wreak havoc and launch your little one into a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and over- or under activity.
If you’re having trouble finding balance, reach out to me! I’m happy to hop onto a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation to see if my services are a good fit for your child’s sleep struggles.