Some of my favorite memories from when I was a kid involve playing sports with my father. My dad and I faced off on the tennis court in the summer, and explored the woods around our house on cross-country skis all winter long.
Dads who spend time being active with their kids do a lot of good for their children and themselves, research tells us. And if that dad-kid time includes regular physical activity, one of those benefits can be sleep.
Kids benefit from time with dads emotionally, academically, in their mental and physical health and their achievement, over the short- and the long-term of their lives. (Science is playing catch-up on the dad front, but what we’re learning about the influence of fathers is pretty compelling.)
Dads who are more engaged with their kids also benefit from the time spent together. Fathers who spend more time with their children experience greater self-esteem and actually feel more satisfaction with their jobs, according to research.
Dads who take advantage of time with their kids to be physically active are not only bonding with their children—they’re contributing to better sleep for their kids, and themselves. That’s because regular exercise has a laundry list of benefits for sleep. Research shows that regular physical activity:
- Improves sleep quality
- Increases daytime alertness
- Alleviates stress and anxiety (which are major obstacles to sleeping well
- Helps to relieve the symptoms of sleep disorders, including insomnia and sleep apnea (one study showed that regular exercise improved sleep apnea by 25 percent)
- Reduces snoring
Regular exercise doesn’t need to mean training for a marathon, or even a 5K. Moderate types of exercise, like walking, cycling, or an impromptu soccer match in the park can have a positive impact on sleep, making it easier to fall asleep and allowing us to spend more time in slow-wave sleep. (That’s a deep stage of sleep that comes with some major benefits for mental and physical health, including sharper cognitive thinking skills and a stronger immune system.)
Sleep experts offer some basic guidelines for maximizing the benefits of exercise:
Make it a regular thing. Research indicates that the benefits of exercise for sleep kick in more strongly over time. If you’re not sleeping better right away, stick with it.
Shoot for 30 minutes a day. The National Sleep Foundation points to research showing that 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise gives a significant boost to sleep quality. That’s a half-hour a day, 5 days a week. That’s also the recommendation of the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control, for healthy adults. (Dads and Moms, take note: the CDC recommends 60 minutes of daily activity for children and teenagers.)
Don’t be too active at night. Exercise leads to the release of endorphins, chemicals within the body that can stimulate the brain. Physical activity also raises body temperature, which stimulates alertness. Both of these physical effects of exercise can interfere with some people’s ability to fall asleep. Experts suggest wrapping up exercise no sooner than 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Science tells us that parents’ activity levels have a big influence over their children’s physical activity. Dads, if you spend time doing fun, exercise-related activities with your kids, you’ll help them become more active adults—and likely better sleepers, too.
Written by Caitlin Reynolds