A recent study of the link between reduced sleep and child obesity has found that children who consistently receive less than the recommended hours of sleep during infancy and early childhood have increases in obesity and overall body fat at age seven.
“Our study found convincing evidence that getting less than recommended amounts of sleep across early childhood is an independent and strong risk factor for obesity,” says Elsie Taveras, chief of General Pediatrics at MGHfC and lead author of the Pediatrics paper.
While several studies have found evidence of an association between sleep and child obesity, few have examined the effects of constant sleep deprivation across time or used measures other than body mass index (BMI), which determines obesity based solely on height and weight. Information used in this study was gathered from interviewing mothers when their children were around six months, three years and seven years old, and from questionnaires completed when the children were ages one, two, four, five and six.
The mothers were asked how much time their children slept, both at night and during daytime naps, during an average day. Measurements taken at the seven-year visit included height and weight, total body fat, abdominal fat, lean body mass, and waist and hip circumferences – measurements that may more accurately reflect cardio-metabolic health risks than BMI alone. Curtailed sleep was defined as less than 12 hours per day from ages 6 months to 2 years, less than 10 hours per day for ages 3 and 4, and less than 9 hours per day from age 5 to 7.
Overall, children with the lowest sleep scores had the highest levels of all body measurements reflecting child obesity, including abdominal fat which is considered to be particularly hazardous. The association was consistent at all ages.
Why sleep deprivation can lead to child obesity:
- Sleep influences the hormones that control hunger and satiety
- The disruption of circadian rhythms or common genetic pathways involved in both sleep and metabolism
- Poor ability to make good decisions on food choices and eating behaviours
- Increased food consumption due to household routine
- Increased opportunities to eat, especially if time is spent in sedentary activities, such as TV viewing, when snacking and exposure to ads for unhealthy foods are common
Ways to help promote good sleep habits and reduce your child’s obesity levels:
- Set a consistent bedtime
- Limit caffeinated beverages late in the day
- Cut out high-tech distractions in the bedroom
A healthy sleep routine will also boost your child’s alertness for school or work, improve his/ her mood and enhance his/ her overall quality of life.