Lack of sunlight due to shorter winter days affects children just like adults
Most adults have felt the lingering effects of cold, drab winter days that are heavy on darkness and short on sunlight. The winter doldrums that affect everything from sleeping and exercise to eating habits are not in your head. They are medically proven to be legitimate.
Lack of sunlight on your retinas stimulates the body’s production of melatonin, which makes you sleepy. Shorter daylight hours make it harder to get in that morning run or afternoon bike ride, and nothing sounds better to eat on cold, dark evening than comfort food.
But another interesting fact about the effects of shorter days during the winter is that the seasonal shift in daylight hours also affects our children in many of the same ways we feel it. And if parents aren’t motivated to keep eating healthy and working out themselves, they certainly aren’t going to be thinking about making sure the kids are.
Phyllis Townsend, pediatrician with Pediatric Associates of Franklin, says that it’s super important for parents to keep kids moving even in the wintertime when that can become a challenge.
“Parents definitely have to get more creative with how they are going to keep their kids moving during the wintertime,” Townsend said. “I think we need to get our kids unplugged. They may not be able to go outside, but they don’t need to be sedentary.”
She suggests having them help put things away, help cook meals, anything that gets them up from staring at a screen.
“Getting them unplugged is so hard, but you still need to do it. Get up a few minutes earlier and do some jumping jacks before the bus. More kids should walk to school. That’s a great way to stay active.”
Abigail Anglum is a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner with Williamson Medical Group in Franklin and she agrees that getting outside is an important factor in combatting the shorter days – even when it’s cold out.
“The challenge with the time change in wintertime is that you aren’t getting any daylight or sunlight,” she said. “The bright light exposure is important. Getting outdoors if you can during the day makes a difference. Getting what you can get is better than nothing.”
Because it’s so much easier for children to sit and be sedentary in the winter, Townsend says she sees the lack of daylight as a contributor to the obesity problem in our country.
“Too many kids sit inside and don’t get any exercise in the wintertime,” she said. “Too many schools now are even limiting P.E. classes to once or twice a week. But our kids need to be active at least one hour a day.”
In addition to needing more sunlight and exercise during the winter, just like their parents, kids’ sleep patterns can also get interrupted this time of year.
“Anything that upsets a kid’s sleep pattern is bad,” Townsend said. “Teenagers already have a hard time getting up so early and it affects their performance at school. This can affect behavior and impulse control, so right off the bat, that’s an initial concern for parents.”
Townsend said many times it’s more the time change that can mess with a child’s sleep schedule and that they can usually adjust to it after several weeks.
“The most important thing you need to do for every kid is a bedtime routine so that bedtime isn’t a struggle,” Townsend said. “Because anything that reduces the amount of sleep a child gets is going to affect their behavior and their ability to learn.”Share this Article