In a recent study, researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, deprived preschoolers, all regular afternoon nappers, of three hours of sleep on one day. The children missed their afternoon nap and stayed up for about two hours past normal bedtime, and were then awakened at their regularly scheduled time the next morning.
During the day of lost sleep, the 3- and 4-year-olds consumed about 20 percent more calories than usual, 25 percent more sugar and 26 percent more carbohydrates.
The following day, the kids were allowed to sleep as much as they needed. On this "recovery day," they returned to their normal baseline intakes of sugar and carbohydrates, but still consumed 14 percent more calories and 23 percent more fat than normal.
Parents were given no instructions regarding the kind or amount of food or beverages to provide their children. Parents fed their children just like they would on any normal day.
The findings showed that sleep loss increased preschoolers’ food intake on both the day of and the day after restricted sleep. The results may shed light on how sleep loss can increase weight gain and why a number of large studies show that preschoolers who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be obese as a child and later in life.
The researchers also studied each child across all study conditions -- meaning when their sleep was optimized, restricted and recovered -- which gave them control over how kids could differ individually in their eating preferences and sleep.
The children in the study -- five girls and five boys -- each wore small activity sensors on their wrists to measure time in bed, sleep duration and sleep quality. Parents logged all food and beverages consumed by the preschoolers, including portion sizes, brand names and quantities, using household measures like grams, teaspoons and cups. For homemade dishes parents recorded ingredients, quantities and cooking methods.
The results are consistent with those from other studies conducted in adults and teenagers, showing increased caloric intake on days when participants were sleep deprived.
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