Inadequate Sleep May Lead to Children Becoming Overweight

A new Northwestern University study has discovered that children who sleep less may face a greater risk of becoming overweight. The study examined 2,182 children ages 3 to 18 to learn about the connections between sleep, body mass index, and being overweight.

“Our study suggests that earlier bedtimes, later wake times, and later school start times could be an important and relatively low-cost strategy to help reduce childhood weight problems,” says Emily Snell, co-author of the study, which is published in the current issue of Child Development.

“We found even an hour of sleep makes a big difference in weight status,” she said. “Sleeping an additional hour reduced young children’s chance of being overweight from 36 percent to 30 percent, while it reduced older children’s risk from 34 percent to 30 percent.”

The reasons for this correlation are unclear. It may have to do with hormone production related to sleep levels or it may simply mean that tired children exercise less frequently. There’s also the possibility that children who are awake longer have more time to eat.

“Many American children are simply not getting the sleep they need,” Snell says. “Parents, policymakers, and health-care providers all are concerned about the obesity epidemic among children. Our results suggest that something as simple as helping children sleep more at night could reduce their risk of being overweight.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, younger kids should be getting 10 or 11 hours of sleep per night, while teenagers require about eight or nine hours. Previous studies have linked a lack of sleep to emotional, social, and school-performance issues among children.

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