A Good Night’s Sleep Is A Weapon Against Childhood Obesity

Posted Tue, 01/25/2011 - 11:16am by Denise Reynolds

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You have probably seen the studies that find that adults who do not sleep well at night have detrimental health effects that include a reduction in the ability to decrease body fat. Well, it turns out that the same could be said about our children. A new study from the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville has found that children who get sufficient sleep are less likely to be obese.

The recommended amount of sleep that an individual needs is based on many factors, including age. Newborns typically sleep a total of 15 to 18 hours a day, but as any new mom knows, this is broken into 2- to 4-hour chunks of time. Between one and three years old, children need a little less sleep, about 12 to 14 hours a day, and they tend to sleep more regulated hours and for longer periods at a time. Once your child reaches preteen and teen years, they are sleeping an average of 8 to 9 hours a day, much like an adult.

In the latest research, published in the journal Pediatrics, the scientists compared the sleep patterns of 308 children between the ages of 4 to 10 with body mass index. The children wore a special wristband device that tracked sleep for one week. Some of the children also had blood work to assess levels of glucose, insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels.

Overall, the kids slept an average of 8 hours a night, which is much less than the 10 to 12 hours generally recommended for this age range. Those who did manage to reach levels of sleep closer to this goal were the least likely to be obese or to have unhealthy blood work. However, those who slept the least or who had the most irregular sleep schedule — meaning they didn't have a set bed time — were at a substantially greater risk of being obese and having blood markers above the normal range.

Not getting enough sleep causes changes in neuropeptides that regulate appetite. These include ghrelin and leptin and the findings are similar to sleep and weight research conducted in adults.

Ghrelin is a hormone that is secreted in the stomach but acts as an appetite stimulant when it reaches the brain. It also slows metabolism and decreases the body's ability to burn fat. Leptin is another hormone that plays a central role in fat metabolism. Some obese children have been found to have an inability to lose weight because they have a genetic inability to produce leptin. The theory is that if the body doesn't make enough leptin, the brain thinks that it has no fat for storage of energy and spurs the person to eat more.

"If you want your child to be happy and to succeed, prioritize sleep," said study lead author David Gozal MD. "There are a lot of advantages about sticking to a regular bedtime routine with appropriate time being allowed for the child to sleep." Not only will you help your child reduce his or her risk for obesity and later developing a chronic condition such as diabetes or heart disease, "Optimal sleep is associated with better attention, better ability to learn, and better memory."

The National Sleep Foundation has the following tips for encouraging adequate sleep in preschool and school-aged children. Top priority is to set and maintain and consistent sleep schedule, both during the week and on weekends. Although some children are allowed to "catch up" on their lost sleep over the weekends, most often this leads to other behavioral difficulties such as bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, and anxiety around sleep time.

Encourage a restful, peaceful sleeping area. Keep the room cool, quiet and dark. Remove distractions such as TVs, computers, and video games. Try a bedtime routine, which works especially well with younger kids, such as spending a few minutes reading, praying, or just talking about the day.

Include the importance of a good night's sleep in your overall discussions about healthy choices. And be a good role model yourself — remember that sleep deprivation is also linked to weight problems in adults as well.

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