Kids’ screen time, inactivity, and the growing ‘sleepidemic’

Kids’ screen time, inactivity, and the growing ‘sleepidemic’

Canadian kids are experiencing a ‘sleepidemic’. Through a vicious cycle involving too much sedentary screen time and too little physical activity, new research suggests that Canadian children and youth are now facing a third health risk—too little sleep.

The ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth discusses issues and challenges in getting Canadian kids to engage in physical activity. It covers categories such as active play, physical literacy, and sedentary behaviors and assigns a letter grade to each.

The Report Card has added sleep as a category. And the research is enough to keep parents awake at night.

In short, Canadian kids are getting less sleep, and their sleep is of increasingly lesser quality. This means that they become more sedentary and less active each day as they struggle to stay awake.

And after each new day of decreased activity and increased sedentary time, they sleep poorly again. The cycle repeats.

“Sleep deprivation is becoming a problem for Canadian children and youth, creating an insidious threat to their mental and physical health,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, the chief scientific officer on the ParticipACTION Report Card and the director of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute’s Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (CHEO-HALO).

“It’s time to take a whole day approach,” says Tremblay, “Many kids are too tired to get enough physical activity during the day, and not active enough to be tired at night — it’s a vicious cycle.”

The new Report Card emphasizes that children and youth need to sweat, step, sleep, and sit the right amounts throughout each 24-hour day. Presently only 9 per cent of kids get enough moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) each day, and only 24 per cent stay within recommended limits for daily screen time (two hours).

Their sleep is suffering in tandem. In recent decades, Canadian kids’ nightly sleep duration has decreased between 30 to 60 minutes. At present, 31 per cent of elementary-aged children and 26 per cent of high school teens are sleep-deprived.

Sleep deprivation has a grave effect on physical activity rates. But it also presents other health issues.

Too little sleep can cause hyperactivity, lower IQ scores, and produce adverse hormonal changes. Some of these changes are associated with increased risks of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.

Meanwhile, regular physical activity is a proven sleep aid. According to the 2016 Report Card, Grade 5 students with higher physical activity levels are less likely to be sleepy during the daytime. Similarly, 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.

If your child is not sleeping well on a regular basis, it might be time to review screen time and physical activity habits in your household. Quality sleep is essential to every child’s healthy development, and the new ‘sleepidemic’ may hold consequences as serious as the inactivity crisis.


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