Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size

Lack of Sleep, Overweight Linked to Kids' Learning Problems

Study Suggests a Connection Between a Child's Weight, Sleep Problems, and Learning Ability
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 4, 2011 -- Children who are overweight and don't get enough sleep may have a harder time learning, and those with learning difficulties may be at higher risk for obesity and sleep problems, new research suggests.

The study found that a child's weight, sleep problems, and ability to learn are all connected, with each influencing the other.

Although one expert says the study raises some interesting questions about the relationship of obesity, sleep, and intelligence, it's far too soon to even suggest that intelligence levels alone play a role in obesity or sleep problems.

It is widely recognized that obesity increases the risk for sleep apnea and related conditions, known collectively as sleep-disordered breathing (SDB).

Chronic lack of sleep has also been shown to have a negative impact on learning. But the new study is among the first to examine the interaction of obesity, lack of sleep, and intelligence in elementary school children.

Study researcher Karen Spruyt, PhD, of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, says sleep problems are often overlooked in children with weight or learning problems.

"Along with campaigns targeting childhood obesity, screening for sleep-disordered breathing in overweight children and children with learning difficulties may be justified," she says.

Weight, Sleep, and Learning Connected

The study included 351 elementary school children living in Louisville, Ky. Their average age was 8.

None of the children had a diagnosed learning disability that warranted a special-learning designation in school and none was taking ADHD drugs.

The children underwent standardized intelligence testing, with emphasis on traits associated with learning, such as memory, working memory, planning, problem solving, and attention, Spruyt tells WebMD.

They also spent a night in a sleep lab where they were evaluated for SDB.

Spruyt and colleagues relied on a widely used analysis technique known as structural equation modeling to examine the interaction between body weight, sleep quality, and learning.

The model showed that each variable influenced the other:

  • Poor sleep increased a child's risk for both obesity and lower scores on the learning ability tests.
  • Obesity increased the risk for breathing-related sleep issues and lower learning ability scores.
  • Lower learning ability scores influenced the risk for obesity and sleep problems.

Because all the children in the study were considered developmentally normal, the study does not address the impact of obesity and sleep problems on kids with diagnosed learning disabilities, Spruyt says.

Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.

worried kid
jennifer aniston
Measles virus
sick child

Child with adhd
rl with friends
Syringes and graph illustration