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Children's Health

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Lack of Sleep Tied to Childhood Obesity

Not Getting Recommended Amount of Sleep Increases Risk of Childhood Obesity, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 2, 2008 -- Children who don't get the recommended amount of sleep may be more likely to become obese.

A new study shows children's sleeping patterns vary depending on the time of day, week, and year, and children who consistently don't get the recommended amount of sleep may suffer as a result.

"Short sleep duration was associated with a three-fold increased risk of the child being overweight or obese," says researcher Ed Mitchell, DSc, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, in a news release. "This effect was independent of physical activity or television watching. Attention to sleep in childhood may be an important strategy to reduce the obesity epidemic."

Children's Sleep Patterns Vary

In the study, published in the journal Sleep, researchers analyzed the sleeping patterns of 591 children at four different stages in their lives: at birth, at 1 year, at 3 1/2 years, and at 7 years.

The results showed the average time spent sleeping was 10.1 hours, but sleep duration varied significantly throughout the year. Sleep duration was shorter:

  • On weekends than on weekdays
  • In the summer than in spring, autumn, and winter
  • In those with no younger siblings
  • When bedtime was after 9 p.m.

Overall, sleep duration was 40 minutes longer in winter than in summer and 31 minutes longer on weekdays than on the weekends.

Researchers also found children who slept less were more likely to be overweight or obese.

For example, children who slept an average of less than nine hours a night had a 3.34% increase in body fat compared with those who slept more than nine hours.

How to Help Children Sleep

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that preschool children sleep between 11-13 hours per night and school-age children should get between 10-11 hours of sleep each night.

To achieve optimal health benefits and potentially reduce the risk of childhood obesity, the academy recommends the following tips to help children sleep better.

  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine. Set aside 10 to 30 minutes to get your child ready to go to sleep each night.
  • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.
  • Interact with your child at bedtime. Don't let the TV, computer, or video games take your place.
  • Keep your children from TV programs, movies, and video games that are not right for their age.
  • Do not let your child fall asleep while being held, rocked, fed a bottle, or while nursing.
  • At bedtime, do not allow your child to have foods or drinks that contain caffeine. This includes chocolate and sodas. Try not to give him or her any medicine that has a stimulant.

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