A Secret to Reduce Stress is Just a Step Out Your Door



Would you like your children to fall asleep faster and sleep better? Would you be willing to take one step to feel happier and less stressed? That one step is out your door. 

Research documents that time spent outside is one of the most effective tools to improve sleep, lift mood, reduce stress, and raise the level of soothing hormones in the body.  Why then do we find it so difficult to open that door?  Saskia D. M. van Schaik PhD, Utrecht University the Netherlands, and her colleagues found that parents in the Netherlands and in the United States both voice the belief that time spent outside is important for the wellbeing of their family, but the data demonstrates that Dutch parents and children spend a significantly higher percentage of time outdoors than their US counterparts. What makes the difference? 

The Dutch value regularity and the importance of “airing out,” their children. The result? They intentionally schedule time outdoors. 

American parents despite their belief that time spent outside is important report the absence of regular outside time and as a result less time outdoors. Often, they voice the deterrents of no place to go, or it is too hot or too cold as reasons for not getting outside. Or, simply that they prefer a more varied and exciting schedule. Unfortunately, that is keeping us inside. 

Maybe, the Dutch parents are on to something. Especially since they also describe their children as calm and report fewer sleep problems than their American counterparts, which they attribute to their predictable routine and time spent every day outdoors.   Think about it, we schedule classes and events for our children and get them there no matter the weather, or inconvenience why not do the same for time spent outside?

Regularity provides predictability. Predictability reduces children’s protests which occur when it is a surprise that it is time to go outside. 

Regularity also requires intentional planning, which means determining the best times of day for outside time and procuring the clothing to make it happen. When we do so, getting out is much easier and less likely to be put-off. 

Finally, regularity makes us think about things to do outside. If you have a baby, walking while your baby naps is a great calming strategy for both parent and baby. Or perhaps you simply park your baby in a stroller, while you savor a cup of coffee. The wind, light and sounds around you are settling the baby too.  If your children are older, chasing a ball, looking for insects, sweeping a sidewalk, searching for dinosaurs, creating a chalk mural on the driveway, digging in the dirt, splashing in puddles, or building a snow fort are amazingly delightful. 

Time spent outdoors IS one of the best stress reducers and sleep inducers. 

The secret to getting there can be borrowed from the Dutch. Schedule it into your day.

What are your favorite activities to do outside with kids?

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