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Sleeping Children by Albert Anker 1895
Sleeping Children by Albert Anker 1895

The World Health Organization (WHO), an internationally respected United Nations public health agency, issued its first recommendations for sleep, along with exercise and screen time for children under the age of 5. Applying the recommendations during the first 5 years of life will contribute to children's motor and cognitive developement and lifelong health, according to the WHO.

"Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life," says Dr. Fiona Bull, program manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases at WHO. The Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity had asked for guidance on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep in young children.

Children Playing (Photo by: Artaxerxes - Own work (Wikipedia.org)) Children Playing

Over 23% of adults and 80% of adolescents are not sufficiently physically active. If healthy physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep habits are established early in life, this helps shape habits through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood, according to the WHO.

"What we really  need to do is bring back play for children," says Dr. Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity. "This is about making a shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep."

Recommendations at a glance:

Children less than 1 year of age should:

  • Be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play. 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. Screen time is not recommended. When sedentary, engaging in reading and story telling with a care-giver is encouraged,
  • Have 14 - 17 hours (0 to 3 months of age) or 12 to 16 hours (4 - 11 months of age) of good quality sleep including naps.

Children 1 - 2 years of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities at any intensity. More is better,
  • Not be restrained or sit for more than 1 hour at a time. Also, sedentary screen time is not recommended. At aged 2, sedentary screen time should be no more than 1 hour. Less is better,
  • Have 11 to 14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps, with regular sleep and wake-up times.

Children 3 - 4 year of age should:

  • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activity at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes is moderate to vigorous intensity spread throughout the day. More is better,
  • Not to be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time or sit for extended periods. Sedentary screen time would be no more than 1 hour. Less is better,
  • Have 10 - 13 hours of good quality sleep.