May 19, 2014
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Kids Who Sleep Less May Weigh More
Children who don't get enough sleep may also have a higher risk of being overweight, a new study suggests. The study included more than 1,000 children. Mothers were asked how much sleep their kids usually got. They were asked when the children were 6 months old, 1 year old and then every year. Researchers gave each child a sleep score. About 4% of the children did not get enough sleep during most of the study (scores 1 to 4). About 40% got enough sleep on a regular basis (scores 12 or 13). The others got enough sleep only some of the time. Kids who were the most sleep-deprived were about 2½ times as likely to be obese as those who consistently got enough sleep. They also scored higher on other measurements of body fat. The journal Pediatrics published the study. HealthDay News wrote about it May 19.
By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
If you want to prevent your children from being obese, make sure they get enough sleep.
That's the message of a study just published in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers from Boston kept track of children from the ages of 6 months to 7 years. They asked parents how much sleep the children got at age 6 months, age 1 and then every year after that.
At "mid-childhood," between ages 7 and 8, researchers measured the children's body fat and body mass index (BMI). These are two important measures used to see if children are at a healthy weight.
They found that the children who got the least sleep had higher BMIs and more belly fat than children who got the most sleep. There wasn't a huge difference, but there was definitely a difference.
This isn't the first study to point to a link between sleep and weight. Many studies have shown that when children and adults don't get enough sleep, it increases their risk of being overweight and having heart disease.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Here are the recommended daily amounts of sleep for different age groups that the researchers used:
- 6 months to 2 years: 12 hours
- 3 to 4 years: 10 hours
- 5 to 7 years: 9 hours
These researchers didn't ask a lot of questions about the daily household routines that might have led to children getting enough or not enough sleep. But they did ask about television viewing. Not surprisingly, children who watched more TV got less sleep. Along with limiting TV viewing, here are some other ideas for improving the amount and quality of your child's sleep:
- Have a regular bedtime. Staying up later on a weekend is OK. But make it just a little later -- less than an hour. Keeping things regular really helps to make sure your child gets enough sleep.
- Limit TV -- not just in general, but especially before bedtime. The kind of light emitted by a TV can activate the brain and make it harder to fall asleep.
- Speaking of TVs, don't have one in the child's bedroom.
- Have soothing bedtime routines, such as bathing, quiet time and reading stories. It's not the time to start roughhousing.
- Keep the house quiet, or at least relatively quiet, after your child goes to bed.
- If your child is easily distracted by noise or light, consider room-darkening curtains or a white-noise machine.
Of course, sleep isn't the only factor when it comes to childhood obesity. Along with making sure your children get enough sleep, make sure they are active. An hour a day of physical activity is recommended. Don't give them sweetened drinks, and feed them a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
One-third of U.S. children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. That's why it's really important that we pay attention to studies like these -- and make the lifestyle changes they suggest. We owe it to the next generation to take the best care of them we can -- and give them the best future possible.