Children who don’t get enough sleep may be more likely to become overweight or obese than kids who typically get enough rest, a Danish study suggests.
The researchers focused on 368 normal weight children between 2 and 6 years old who were at risk for becoming overweight because they were born at a high birth weight, had heavy parents or came from a low-income family.
At the start of the study, parents recorded sleep diaries for their children over 7 days, noting how much total rest kids got and whether the children took naps, slept through the night, had difficulty falling asleep or waking up, or suffered from other sleep issues. Parents also completed food diaries.
The children who got the least amount of nighttime sleep on average were more likely to become overweight during the following 1.3 years. Kids who became overweight were also more likely to consume a lot of sugary foods and drinks.
Children with the highest sleep variability consumed higher amounts of added sugars and sugary beverages but lower amounts of fruits and vegetables compared with children with lower sleep variability.
This suggests that kids who have better sleep routines also have a healthier diet than those who may have less strict sleep routines.
While plenty of previous research has linked inadequate sleep to obesity in both children and adults, less is known about toddlers and young children with a high risk of obesity because of their own birth weight or parents’ weight and income.
More than 10.7 hours sleep each night tied with less weight gain
At the start of the study, the children were getting an average of 10.7 hours of sleep a night, though this ranged from 8.8 hours to 12.5 hours.
Children who slept more than 10.7 hours on average had significantly less weight gain than kids who slept less than 10.4 hours.
Kids who slept less were more likely to have trouble falling asleep - and to go to their parents’ bed at night - than children who got more rest.
The findings add to previous research linking inadequate sleep to increased caloric consumption and poor food choices.
How much sleep do kids need?
At age 2, kids should get 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, including naps, according to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. From age 3 to 5, kids need 10 to 13 hours of sleep including naps, and starting at age 6 doctors recommend 9 to 12 hours of sleep.
Parents can help children get more sleep by enforcing a regular sleep schedule even on weekends and holidays, creating a calming bedtime routine, and removing electronics from the bedroom.
Insufficient sleep also has a negative impact on children’s behavior, mood, and cognition.
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