The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Can exercise help children sleep better?

Written by
Amber Freeland
Posted in

Wednesday, Feb 13, 2019

How much sleep is your child getting? We know physical activity and good nutrition is important for student performance and growth development, but sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to sleep.

Getting enough sleep and getting high quality sleep have a huge impact on the daily function, energy levels, and overall performance of students in both academics and athletics. If we want students to be prepared to perform, then we have to ensure they get proper sleep for their age.

According to a study from the CDC, “Insufficient sleep among children and adolescents is associated with increased risk for obesity, diabetes, injuries, poor mental health, attention and behavior problems, and poor academic performance.”

While poor sleep habits may make a child feel too tired for physical activity, physical activity may be the answer to improving poor sleep habits. In a New Zealand study, researchers looked at how much time it took for inactive children to fall asleep versus active children. What they found was that it took children 3 more minutes to fall asleep for every hour that child was sedentary. That means that a child who plays video games or watches TV all day will take more time to fall asleep, and have poorer quality sleep, than a child who actively plays during the day.

The role of physical activity on sleep patterns may seem more obvious, but a less obvious cause of poor sleep may surprise you - poor vision.

If your child is nearsighted, there is a much greater risk that he or she also has trouble sleeping. Research from the Vision Impact Institute suggests a clear correlation between children with myopia (nearsightedness) and accompanying sleep disorders. In the study, children with high myopia displayed the poorest sleep scores and the poorest quality when it comes to sleep. These children also experienced the shortest sleep durations each night and the latest bedtime.

Visual impairment is affecting children at younger ages. According to a 2017 study in JAMA Ophthalmology, 174,000 preschoolers in the U.S. struggle to see due to untreated vision problems, and this number is expected to increase by 26 percent by 2060. This means the youngest of our children may not be getting the rest they need to fuel their growing bodies and minds.

Children with uncorrected vision already experience a deficit in academic performance, but when coupled with sleep deprivation, a child’s ability to perform optimally could be significantly impaired over time. Physical fitness can help on all fronts.

By getting kids more physically active, we can reduce their risk of myopia and improve their quality of sleep. Here are a few tips to help improve your child’s sleep:

  • Reduce screen time, especially before bedtime.
  • Limit light pollution in their room, especially the blue lights from TVs, cell phones or even alarm clocks.
  • Encourage kids to play outside more or play sports.
  • Have them do more chores around the house like vacuuming and dusting.
  • Cut back on caffeine and sugar, which can cause them to crash later.
  • Keep their room comfortable and lower the temperature at night.
  • Stick to a routine.

The more active our kids are, the healthier they will be now and Well. Into the Future.