Parents will tell you there are not many things worse than a child who needs sleep but many may be surprised to hear that the majority actually suffer from sleep deprivation. Nowadays children are faced with a rather over-stimulating world, spending hours a day watching TV, playing video games and using other electronic media, all of which are deterrents to a good night’s sleep. In a world filled with iPads, Nintendos and Xboxs,good old-fashioned outdoor play—the running, jumping, and catch-playing and use of outdoor play equipment, like climbing frames and swing sets,can sometimes be overlooked. Studies have shown that swapping the “screen time” for “green time” can have a massively positive effect on a child’s sleep habits, as well as the obvious benefits of getting children out and about.
Outdoor time improves children’s sleep in three ways:
1. Sleep-inducing natural light
Regular doses of bright natural light help children stay more alert during the day, elevate their moods and make it easier to sleep at night. Outdoor lighting is much brighter and covers a broader spectrum of light; exposure to it actually helps set their body clock for a better and earlier night’s sleep.
2. The soothing dimensions of more time in nature
Nature has a soothing, comforting effect on children. It can take away stress and be a haven for kids who are otherwise feeling the pressures of school, family, and social demands. They have stresses and worries just as adults too but time spent amongst nature, exposed to the different colours, textures, shapes and sights can go some way to relaxing them. In a place with far less boundaries children can go wild and let go running, sliding and jumping.
3. Outdoor exercise is better for children than indoors
Exercise can release soothing endorphins into the blood stream and help with the production of melatonin. Outdoor play encourages activities such as climbing, jumping, running and tumbling that promote muscle fitness and flexibility. Research shows that moderate to vigorous physical activity in child care settings increased from 1% indoors to as much as 11% outdoors. When outdoor play was child led, the amount of time further increased to 17%. It also makes sense that when exercise is child led and not labelled as ‘exercise’ children are far more likely to carry on for a longer time as it is simply fun. Research has found that children who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) get significant relief from their symptoms and are able to concentrate better if they spend some time outdoors.
We all know that sleep deprivation can have very detrimental effects; it can stunt physical growth, impede performance at school, lead to anxiety or depression and contribute to future health problems like obesity. Making matters worse, children are generally bad judges of the amount of sleep they really need. It’s recommended that 7-12 year olds get 10-11 hours per night but in reality are only getting about 9 hours; 3-6 year olds need 10-12 hours and are getting less than 10. Sleeping well can mean a child is less cranky, can concentrate better, and is calmer and more productive. More play time in natural settings can help kids get the high-quality night’s sleep they really need.
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