Focus on child sleep could boost physical activity: study
Supporting parents to improve their children’s sleep patterns could boost children’s level of physical activity and potentially reduce their risk of obesity.
A pilot program developed by the Parenting Research Centre has found that modifying household routines to increase child sleep increased the level of moderate to vigorous physical activity. It also increased the children’s levels of activity overall.
The research team, including Dr Melinda Polemini and Olivia Clayton from the Centre and researchers from Hunter New England Health, studied 76 pairs of parents and children. Their findings have been published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.
The children, aged 3-6 years, were from the Hunter region of NSW and randomised to take part in a sleep intervention program or to a control group, which continued usual behaviour.
Evidence-based sleep support
The intervention was based on best-practice evidence from systematic reviews and recommendations from peak sleep organisations.
Parents were given access to:
- a 12-minute online video giving information about the benefits of sleep
- practical tips on how to incorporate household routines to support sleep
- a telephone call from a trained psychologist providing them with support to implement the messages in the video
- two follow-up text messages to further encourage them to access the video and to persist with their new routines.
In addition, the parents in both groups kept a child sleep/activity log. Also, children wore a accelerometer to measure how many minutes per day they spent doing total PA and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). This is a level of activity that prevents metabolic syndrome and obesity.
The study found that children in the intervention group had 0.9 hours more sleep than those in the control groups. Also, they had 10.8 minutes per day more MVPA and 2.7 minutes per day more total physical activity than controls.
“While the exact mechanisms are unknown, it is possible the increased sleep may impact on factors that influence energy metabolism or reduce fatigue and tiredness, subsequently increasing participation in MVPA,” the authors wrote.
They said the findings were important because data showed most children didn’t reach recommended levels of physical activity. More effective strategies were needed to enhance existing interventions around physical activity.
“Recent reviews have outlined the importance of considering [physical activity] alongside other movement behaviors, such as sleep, in attempts to improve the health and PA of young children,” they wrote.
The authors said barriers included a low retention rate (between 34% and 74%) and inability to contact some parents.
Nevertheless, the study did support a potential causal relationship between sleep duration and MVPA in young children.
“This study reports promising effect that an intervention targeting sleep may improve child MVPA and sleep duration,” the researchers said.