Time to sound the alarm (clock) on kids’ inactivity

If you think kids can get a little exercise and then slack off in front of screens until the wee hours, you’re in for a rude awakening.  New research shows that physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep are closely interrelated—and sedentary lifestyles are connected to a creeping ‘sleepidemic’ in Canadian children and youth.

That’s why, for the first time, the 2016 ParticipACTION Report Card assigns a grade to sleep and includes new Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth. A first of their kind in the world, the guidelines outline what a healthy 24-hour period looks like for kids aged five to 17. 

As Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer, ParticipACTION Report Card and Director of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute’s Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (CHEO-HALO), puts it, it’s a vicious cycle. 

Many kids are too tired to get enough physical activity during the day, and not active enough to be tired at night.

For health, kids need to sweat, step, sleep and sit the right amounts each day. Only nine per cent of kids get enough heart-pumping physical activity and only 24 per cent are meeting screen time guidelines of no more than two hours per day.  Plus, in recent decades, children’s nightly sleep duration has decreased by 30 minutes to an hour; 31 per cent of school-aged kids and 26 per cent of adolescents in Canada are sleep-deprived.

The good news is that regular physical activity may just be the best sleep aid there is. According to the Report Card, Grade 5 students with higher physical activity levels are less likely to be sleepy during the daytime and high school students who get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day are 41 per cent more likely to get sufficient sleep than those who don’t.

It’s time for a wake-up call. 

The new 24-Hour Movement Guidelines call for at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time, limited sitting for extended periods and at least 9-11 hours of sleep per night for children 5-13 years, and 8-10 hours for those aged 14-17 years.  They were developed by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, the Conference Board of Canada, HALO-CHEO, ParticipACTION and the Public Health Agency of Canada, with input from research experts and stakeholders across Canada and around the world.

It may seem like a good idea to cram more into each day to wear kids out, but a full schedule of activities doesn’t necessarily equal more physical activity. If we want to improve sleep in our kids, we need to get them off the couch and away from their screens with regular, heart-pumping activity. 

If Canadian kids sit less and move more, we’ll all sleep better!