It’s generally well known that exercise improves sleep, but for teens this may have special significance. A recent study showed a sharp distinction between the sleep quality of teens who sat in front of a computer for more than two hours a day or a television for more than four hours a day, and those who exercised instead. The teens who sat in front of the computer did so recreationally – that is, they did social networking, played games, and so forth.
This “sedentary behavior” had a profound effect on the teens’ sleep quality. Teens who exercised instead of spending time in front of the computer reported sleeping for eight hours or more, while the sedentary teens got insufficient sleep.
Teens are a special concern regarding exercise and sleep. There are several reasons for this, such as the following:
* Teens are more likely to spend recreational time in front of a computer.
* Teens tend to stay up late due to homework and/or circadian rhythm changes.
* Teens actually need more sleep per night (between nine and ten hours) than the average adult.
* Teens are in school, and schoolwork is often very demanding and requires sufficient sleep to be tackled effectively.
* Teens’ brains are still developing.
In other words, teens are the most likely group to get insufficient sleep, yet they are the group that needs it most.
So how does exercise improve sleep for teens? For one thing, teens who do not exercise are more likely to be obese, and obesity affects sleep quality. According to the study referred to above, chronic sleep deprivation affects teens’ immune systems, the cardiovascular system, and the brain (which, in teens, is still developing). Exercise has been shown to help in all these areas – cardiovascular, immune, and neurological systems are all said to be positively impacted by exercise.
Exercise also makes your teen tired in a good way, and research shows it reduces stress. Stress can really keep your teen up at night, so exercising may relieve that stress and improve sleep. Regular exercise also boosts the appetite, and if parents keep lots of healthy food around, teens may be more likely to eat even foods they have shunned in the past. Intake of more healthy food also helps promote overall health and, by extension, sleep quality.
Generally speaking, vigorous cardiovascular exercise is the best for promoting sleep. Stretching and other forms of exercise are certainly good for the body and may help promote relaxation, thus aiding sleep; but experts agree that at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise – preferably in the afternoon – has the most benefit.