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Children Need More Sleep to Prevent Obesity, Diabetes


Children who get more sleep are more likely to weigh less and avoid metabolic factors that predispose them to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, according to a new study. If your children are getting less than 9 hours of sleep per night, they need more.

Catch-up sleep on weekends lowers obesity risk

Parents can recognize when their children do not get enough sleep, because they may be cranky and less alert. Research shows that insufficient sleep among children can result in behavior problems, poorer performance on cognitive tests, and more injuries.

An earlier study from the University of California reported that a lack of adequate nighttime sleep among infants and preschool children was a significant risk factor for obesity later in childhood. Inadequate sleep is also known to weaken the immune system and make people more susceptible to infections.

A new study by investigators at the University of Chicago and published in Pediatrics shows an association between insufficient sleep and obesity and other metabolic problems. One major finding was that children ages 4 to 10 who got the least amount of sleep and who had the most irregular sleep schedules were greater than 4.4-fold more likely to be obese.

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David Gozal, MD, of the University of Chicago, and his research team evaluated 308 healthy children over a one-week period. The children wore wrist actigraphs to record their sleep duration and patterns.

Researchers found that the children averaged about eight hours of sleep per night, regardless of day of the week or the child’s weight. The recommended amount is 9 to 10 hours.

Among other findings was that less sleep (about 6.5 hours) and irregular sleep patterns were associated with altered levels of insulin, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and C-reactive protein (an indication of inflammation and cardiovascular risk). The authors concluded that “the longer and more-stable sleep duration is, the less likely a child is to manifest metabolic dysfunction.”

On the upside, children who got extra sleep on the weekends lowered their risk of obesity to less than 2.2-fold. Overall, the study results indicated that children who consistently get 9 to 10 hours of sleep on both weekdays and weekends have the healthiest metabolic profile.

If you are a parent who would like to help your children get more sleep to ward off obesity, diabetes, and other health problems, you can find some help online. The National Sleep Foundation offers tips for kids, as does WebMD with Sleep Tips for Kids.

Spruyt K et al. Pediatrics 2011; 127:e345-52