The missing piece of the sleep puzzle.

We all want our children to sleep well, settle easily and take restorative naps. We work on sleep hygiene, we set up consistent routines, and have predictable pre sleep rituals. We teach our babies to self settle, and we’re patient with them….

But sometimes they just wont…..

Sleep through the night

Stop waking early

Take longer naps

Settle easily at night time

When you feel you’ve exhausted all options and wonder still why your baby or toddler or even school aged child isn’t sleeping well, this is the blog for you!

I first noticed this as a variable when my own son was just over 1. He was a very active child from birth! Early to roll, crawl, stand and walk, he wanted to move! If I didn’t let him move, his sleep fell apart. He would be wide awake in the middle of the night, or mid nap, just WIDE awake! He needed to be physically tired enough to mentally relax and sleep well.

I’ve since seen this as a consistent variable with my clients. When parents have a busy day running errands and baby spends the day in the car seat and stroller, they just aren’t physically tired.

The rise of baby contraptions such as exersaucers, bumbos, high chairs, swings, rockers, all restrain a baby in some way and discourage that full body physical movement, and body exertion that floor time encourages.

Sometimes the problem is over tired babies generally don’t like floor time, and they cry when placed on the floor so parents feel they don’t like it, and resort to carrying or restraining them.

Since I began questioning our life styles, stuck in traffic with children, stuck at home in lock downs with children, I wanted to look further into exactly how much physical activity babies and children need in a day to maintain health, and sleep well.

The answers might surprise you.

The WHO recommends…..

In a 24-hour day, infants (less than 1 year) should:

  • be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play; more is better. For those not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes in prone position (tummy time) spread throughout the day while awake;
  • not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (eg, prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back).

I interpret this “several times a day” as between every nap. By definition several means 3 or more, so that means between every nap, your baby should be on the floor playing, having some tummy time (could be on your lap or chest), practising rolling, crawling, standing, all that good stuff. So if we go for a walk for an hour, we also need to prioritise floor time in that awake period.

Obviously some days are just busy days and this isn’t possible, but if you’re trying to work on sleep, think about how active your baby has been and whether they are tired enough to sleep.

In a 24-hour day, children 1-2 years of age should:

  • spend at least 180 minutes (3 hours!!!) in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, including moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day; more is better;
  • not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (eg, prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time.

The way I interpret this one is not that your 1-2 year old needs to go on a 3 hour run, but if they nap for 1-2 hours in the day, that leaves 9-10 hours of awake time for physical play. Hit the play grounds, parks, back yards, and let them explore, get dirty, run and walk and play. If they’re attending pre-school or day care, choose one which prioritises physical play.

(I literally trialled a pre school for my son once, who got frustrated that he wouldn’t come inside and play with the sticker activity they set up, he wanted to play outside all day, in the sandpit and with the trikes, and slides and swings, we left that centre!)

In a 24-hour day, children 3-4 years of age should:

  • spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activityspread throughout the day; more is better;
  • not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time (eg, prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time.

I see here that by 3-4 years they WHO has increased from including some moderate to vigorous activity, to asking for 60 minutes a day.

The definition of moderate to vigorous is…..

“Moderate physical activity is an activity that children can easily do. It makes children’s heart rate and breathing rate go up a little bit. Examples are walking and dancing. Vigorous physical activity is activity that quickly makes children tired.”

Can they walk to pre-school, can they walk around the super market rather than sit in the trolley. I used to send mine on a mission at 3-4 years to get the….. “loaf of bread and bring it back to me. Or go find the cheese…. If I had to swap it because the got the wrong brand, that’s ok! They loved the walking and activity rather than sitting. Play some music at home and dance! One song is 3-4 minutes long, you’ve only got 56 minutes left to fill in!

If your curious about older children, 5-18 years or adults, the number drops to 60 minutes a day for 5-18 year olds of vigorous activity and 45 minutes for 18 years plus. Do you move enough to sleep well? Remember these are minimums, and the WHO says at all ages, more is better, and will have bigger benefits.

Move well, sleep well!

Emma Purdue

Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant, Happiest Baby on the Block Educator, Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne Certificate in Infant Sleep, a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.

Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn’t working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.


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