Younger children with regular sleep schedules less likely to be obese, research suggests

If you hate enforcing bedtime with your kids, here’s another good reason why you should. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that younger children who get more regular sleep are less likely to be obese.

The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported that the study, from researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville, looked at 308 children from 4 to 10 years old. They tracked the kids’ sleep time for a week via wrist monitors and calculated their body mass index, a standard measurement based on weight and height.

Some of the findings:

  • Regardless of their weight, children slept on average eight hours a night. (The National Institutes of Health recommend nine hours a night.)
  • Children could “catch up” if they missed out by sleeping more over the weekend.
  • Obese children got less sleep and experienced “a mixed sleep pattern.”

The CNN “The Chart” blog reported that the investigators “found that children who had regular sleep schedules and slept the recommended number of hours per night had the least risk of being obese or having unhealthy blood markers,” whereas “children who slept the least and had irregular sleep schedules had more than a fourfold increase in the risk of being obese and having unhealthy blood markers that indicate the beginning of other conditions.”

The Boston Globe “Daily Dose” blog reported, “The combination of large sleep variations and not enough catch-up sleep on the weekend was linked to worse health effects, such as high levels of insulin, ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and the inflammation marker C-reactive protein — all of which raise the risk of future diabetes and heart disease.” And, “like adults, kids who don’t sleep enough may eat extra fat and calories to give themselves an energy boost to overcome chronic drowsiness.”

But, if “children consistently slept longer on weekends to compensate, the risk for obesity and metabolic problems was reduced to a 2.8-fold increase,” HealthDay reported.  The research team also pointed out that the “combination of less sleep and irregular sleep … appears to result in metabolic problems, such as high blood sugar.”

MedPage Today reported, “Not getting enough sleep could cause changes in neuropeptides that regulate appetite – raising ghrelin and reducing leptin – and lead to more eating and obesity,” the study team theorized.

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