A world-first study from the University of South Australia (UniSA) has revealed that getting a good night’s sleep is tied to how you structure your day, with exercise at the heart of sleep quality.

The study examined different components of time use and different aspects of sleep among 1168 children (average age 12 years) and 1360 adults (their parents, average age 44 years, mainly mothers) the study found that children and adults with higher levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity had less troubled sleep, reduced tiredness, and better sleep quality.

Australian guidelines indicate that most adults need about eight hours of sleep per night, with children and teenagers requiring 8-11 hours per night.*

UniSA researcher, Dr Lisa Matricciani, says understanding factors that affect sleep quality is vital for good health and wellbeing.

“Despite what we know about sleep, many people still struggle to achieve a good night’s sleep,” Matricciani says.

“When people think about sleep quality, they tend to focus on adjustments immediately before bedtime – for example, avoiding screens, not eating too much, and avoiding alcohol – but our research looks beyond this to the range of activities we undertake during the day.

“What we found is that our daytime activities are tied to different aspects of our sleep, from sleep quality, sleep efficiency (how much of the time you spend in bed when you are actually asleep), and the overall amount of sleep we get, to levels of tiredness during the day, and when we choose to go to bed.

Matricciani says sometimes, the activities we choose might directly displace sleep.

“… think of kids playing video games late into the night - but other times, it’s how we spend our daytime hours,” she says.

In the study the researcher says her team created different simulations to see how extending and restricting aspects of time were related to different aspects of sleep.

“We found that if children and adults increased moderate to vigorous physical activity, they would feel less tired, have less troubled sleep and better-quality sleep,” Matricciani says.

“Interestingly, simply making more time for sleep predicted more restless sleep.

“Everyone wants a good night’s sleep. If it’s simply a matter of being more active during the day, then it may be a relatively achievable goal for most of us.”

The research follows a major national study last year by Swedish researcher Serena Bauducco, who was hosted at Flinders University for 18 months, that shed new light on how parents can help their teenage children get a good night’s sleep.

Using data from 2500 students aged between 12 and 14, the researchers found that those adolescents whose parents set their bedtimes got at least 20 minutes more sleep per night on average – which the researchers said can make “all the difference” to next-day performance.

Previous studies have shown that lack of sleep among adolescents is associated with worsening academic results, behaviour and mental health.