Parents are hearing a lot these days about the hazards of today’s “indoor childhood,” with kids spending countless hours on electronic media. But one consequence may be going undetected. National Wildlife Federation’s new parent guide highlights the connection between the time kids spend playing outdoors and sleep deprivation.
According to NWF Guide, young children and teens are losing anywhere from 10 to 14 hours of sleep a week. Sleep deprivation 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.
Outdoor time improves a child’s sleep in three critical ways. Natural light from the sun regulates the body’s internal “sleep clock,” which makes children more alert during the day, and tired at night. Research also demonstrates that natural, green settings are relaxing and calming for children, and yield other cognitive benefits. Lastly, outside exercise develops better motor skills and encourages creativity.
While there is no single solution to childhood sleep deprivation, part of having a well-rested child involves trading some screen time for green time, according to Kevin Coyle, NWF vice president of education and training, and author of NWF Guide. “More play time in natural settings can help kids get a high-quality night’s sleep.”
To foster awareness and healthier amounts of pillow time, the NWF guide “Green Time for Sleep Time” offers parents helpful advice about improving sleeping habits by exposing children to more outdoor play time every day.
NWF’s parents guide advocates trimming down children’s consumption of electronic entertainment and balancing it with some outdoor play time every day. It’s also important to disengage kids from their tech devises at least an hour before bedtime so they can settle down and be ready for the sand man to arrive.