Time outdoors will help America’s sleep-deprived kids

09-07-2011 // Bangor Daily News

This excerpt is from The Bangor Daily News

Little girl sleeping

Parents will tell you there are few things worse than a child who needs sleep. With the back-to-school season in full swing, many parents are battling the bedtime routine again, a source of frustration for many families.

A new report and parent guide “Green Time for Sleep Time” from the National Wildlife Federation says between racing around on tight schedules and staring at electronic media for hours a day, a majority of kids are sleep deprived.

According to the report, lack of play time outdoors is a big part of the problem. Today’s indoor kids are over-stimulated by television, handheld games and other electronic devices To get a good night’s sleep they need: natural sleep-inducing light during the day; the soothing effects of more natural, outdoor scenes; and enhanced exercise from outdoor play.

Cooper Monroe, founder of “The Motherhood.com” web community says “when kids are sleep deprived there is less peace in day-to-day family dynamics. When a family spends time playing outdoors it almost always means a good night’s sleep — for everyone.”

In addition to the bedtime routine being a struggle, many parents are surprised to learn that their children actually suffer from sleep deprivation — as much as two hours a day. Some reasons are obvious: busy schedules, too much homework, and an addiction to electronic media. But according to NWF’s Guide, one reason for this chronic problem is relatively new; a nearly complete lack of regular outdoor playtime.

Because today’s childhood is largely spent indoors, kids aren’t getting enough exposure to natural daylight; are spending on average eight hours a day watching TV, playing video games and using other electronic media; lack exposure to nature’s calming and restorative powers; and don’t get enough exercise that outdoor play provides. These are all deterrents to a good night’s sleep.

The Parent Guide says building some outdoor time into a child’s daily routine will help overcome these impediments and provide the physical, emotional and cognitive benefits derived from sleeping well.

“While there is no single solution to childhood sleep deprivation, part of having a child who is well rested involves trading some “screen time” for “green time,” said Kevin Coyle, NWF VP of Education and Training. “More play time in natural settings can help kids get a high-quality night’s sleep.”