How Your Child’s Sleeping Habits can Prevent Childhood Obesity

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.  Sara generously shared the following article with Healthy Lombard
The number of obese children has increased markedly since 1999, and this is a major health concern for many people. Approximately 17% of children in the US are considered obese. Nearly 1/3 of toddlers sleep less than the CDC’s recommended

While many people know that nutrition and physical activity are linked to obesity, there’s another aspect of our lives that has been linked to it: sleep. The National Health Society’s research found links between chronic sleep deprivation and diseases like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Studies have found that focusing on sleep hygiene and health has had the most success with preventing childhood obesity.

Here are some ways your child’s sleep might be affecting their weight.

Sleep Length

Sleeping for shorter periods of time has been linked with weight gain for more than a decade. This is because the hormones leptin and ghrelin are secreted in different quantities during naps than they are during a full night’s sleep. These hormones regulate your appetite, and when they aren’t in the right proportions, can cause you to be hungry even when your body doesn’t need any nutrients.

Children in the lowest two-quarters of sleep duration in one study were found to be more likely to be obese at age 7 than children in the highest two-quarters of the study. According to another study, shorter sleep durations are one of the primary connections between sleep and early-onset obesity.

Sleep Patterns

While more study is needed, scientists believe that establishing a consistent sleep schedule in early childhood can help to regulate metabolism and create healthier sleep and eating habits in the future. The effects of sleep timing on obesity begin during early childhood and can promote obesity in adolescence.


Eating Times

One possible factor in the rates of obesity in the last two decades is the increased number of snacks that are eaten outside of mealtimes. Some children wake at night and eat as a way to soothe themselves to sleep or delay bedtime by asking for food. Foods eaten in the evening are often more likely to be high in carbohydrates, fat, salt and sugar, which can cause your child to gain more weight.

If you are concerned about your child’s weight, talk to your doctor to find the best ways to change this without doing harm to your child’s psyche by forcing them on fad diets that can cause them to gain even more weight. If you want to try some different sleep behaviors, here are some tips for you.

Make Their Bed Comfortable

  • Whether they are in a crib or bed of their own, make sure it’s comfortable for them. Nobody wants to sleep on something that’s uncomfortable and unsupportive.
  • Set and Keep a Strict Bedtime – This may not make you the cool parent, but it’s important.
  • Avoid Late Night Snacks – As mentioned above, try and keep after-dinner snacks to a minimum. If your child needs a snack after dinner and before bed, make it something healthy.
  • Avoid Caffeine – If you can, avoid giving your children caffeine except on special occasions. The special occasions should be in the early afternoons to avoid delaying their sleep because of caffeine.
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