Kids' Health

How Sleep Relates to Obesity in Children

A good night’s sleep is a physiological natural reversible state of mind which is characterized by reduced motor activity, relative inhibition of voluntary muscle activity, and decreased interaction with the external environment. Sleep is considered essential just to take the body to a resting state to perform daily activities, but sleep is one of the keys to good health and when it comes to kids, sleep not only plays an important role in healthy cognitive and psychosocial development in early life but also it would be a key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Yes, you read that right! Researchers speculate that chronic sleep deprivation might lead to weight gain or obesity in children. Weight gain/obesity is mostly connected to wrong eating habits or genetics, but nobody ever relates it to sleep.

How does sleep affect body weight?

Dysregulation of hunger hormones Impeded sleep quality and disruption of sleep cycles may lead to higher levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone, Ghrelin, and lower levels of the satiety-inducing hormone, Leptin, which causes a corresponding increase in hunger and appetite. 

Extra snacking/ eating hours – Children with later bedtimes use the sleeping time in being engaged in sedentary leisure activities (TV watching, computer games, etc.) which give them extra eating hours because they have more waking time available.

Decreased energy expenditure – Reduced sleep duration and later timings lead to increased daytime sleepiness or feeling of tiredness during the day which influences the physical activity levels and increased obesity risk among children.

Higher insulin levels and decreased insulin sensitivity – Short sleep duration in children is associated with higher insulin levels and decreased insulin sensitivity, leading the body to not have the ability to process insulin and glucose properly, causing weight gain.

What a good sleep can do?

Sleep plays a crucial role in the development of young minds. It impacts cognitive performance, learning, memory, motor skills development, emotional and psychological health. It also has a direct effect on happiness, attention, mood, stimulation of creative thinking, and boosting alertness at school/work, all of which enhance the overall quality of life.

Other aspects besides obesity

Low-quality sleep has been linked to health conditions like cardiovascular disease, mental illness, emotional imbalance. It also affects an infant’s cognitive and emotional development.

How much sleep do children need?

National Sleep Foundation, USA, has recommended sleep for children under 5 years of age as –

  • Infants (4-12 months) – 12 to 15 hrs
  • Toddlers (1-2 yrs) – 11-14 hrs
  • Preschool children (3-5 yrs) – 10-13 hrs

What we can do to promote good sleep to prevent obesity in children?

Sleep hygiene (positive sleep practices) should be promoted by parents for establishing a healthy sleep pattern during the first years of life. It includes –

  • Regular bedtime and wake-up routines.
  • Shutting of computer, TV screens, video games at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Promoting 30-minute night-time activities before bed like:
  1. Take a warm bath and brush before bed.
  2. Opting for night suits to make children understand it’s time to sleep.
  3. Reading storybooks or singing a lullaby to children.
  • Avoid brighter lights at night time or opt for night lights to bed to make a comfortable environment to sleep in.
  • Keep the bedroom quiet to avoid distractions to sleep.

So, sleep is a promising target for obesity prevention in children and adults. There are many convincing shreds of evidence proving that there exists an inverse relationship between sleep duration and overweight or obesity. To control this obesity epidemic, we need to kick start with preventive measures from the childhood stage only. Remember, good sleep is necessary for good health.

Author: DrManilaArya

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