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Lack of sleep’s effects childhood obesity

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jan 12, 2016

Most-American-children-do-not-get-enough-sleepDo you know how many hours of sleep your child gets each night?  A lack of sleep may affect your child’s weight.  Read my article Dr. David Samadi and I wrote together on this topic.  Learn more on various health topics at

Do you know how many hours of sleep each night your child gets? It could be one part of the reason of why they are overweight to obese for their height and age. Lack of sleep not only has an impact on adult weight but now is believed to be a contributor to weight gain in children.

This is not surprising given the fact all of us, children included, live in a 24/7 world where we can at all times and places be connected with one another without regard to the time of day. This is basically saying “sleep is a waste of time” and yet is such a precious commodity for all of us, particularly children.

“What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? When you don’t get at least seven hours of good sleep, your body’s clock and hormones such as insulin are disrupted,” said Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “As a result, your metabolism is thrown off balance.”

The days of children trying to find things to do to fill their time, are long gone. It’s not uncommon for the average child’s day to be filled with not only school but going to sports practices, dance or music lessons, doing homework, part time jobs and the ever present social media upkeep. But adequate sleep is a vital and necessary daily activity not to be ignored or downplayed. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends the following amounts of nighttime sleep for various ages to maximize overall health and well-being:

• 10-13 hours for preschoolers
• 9-11 hours for school-aged children (ages 5 to 12)
• 8-10 hours for adolescents (ages 13 to18)

Even though the amount of sleep needed can vary between individuals, children require an adequate amount for the following reasons:

• To prevent feeling tired and cranky
• To help them be able to concentrate and think clearly at school
• To help with growth
• To keep the immune system strong
• To aid in preventing and/or reducing obesity

Why children are lacking sleep

There are numerous factors why children are not getting in enough sleep:

• Delays in or having a bedtime set too late
• Activities keeping children awake such as technology use (computers, TV’s in the bedroom, cell phones)
• Too much caffeine use
• Jobs adolescents work at that have late nighttime hours
• Relaxing of parental attitudes in establishing a routine, consistent bedtime

Why lack of sleep effects a child’s weight

When children lack sufficient sleep, it affects their weight by enhancing their vulnerability to overeat – one of the main mechanisms in which insufficient sleep leads to weight gain. Evidence is pointing the finger that short sleep duration, poor sleep quality and later bedtimes are all associated with increased food intake, poor diet quality, and excess body weight. This leads to increased snacking during the day and evening with a preference for sweets and foods high in fat.

When a child lacks sleep, this causes stress on the body. Studies have shown when a person is sleep deprived, it increases the levels of the hormone ghrelin, which causes us to want to eat, while decreasing the hormone leptin, which causes us to feel full or satiated to stop eating.

Dr. Samadi stressed the reasons for how the imbalance of ghrelin and leptin has an influence on weight gain, “This can cause you to have increased levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin. It also causes you to have decreased levels of another hormone responsible for satiety and fullness called leptin. Both of these imbalances in hormones could lead to overeating and weight gain.”

However, lack of sleep and weight gain can also be explained by the fact that it can lead to decreased physical activity due to being fatigued. When you feel tired, you lack the motivation and energy to be physically active which results in fewer calories being used to maintain a reasonable body weight.

How to make sleep a priority for children

Sleep deprivation is common not only in adults but also children. Establishing healthy sleep patterns in children is one method of helping to prevent or improve treatment of obesity. Here are some ideas to making getting adequate sleep for children a priority:

• Have a set bedtime and a set wake up time each day.
• Allow no TV, computers, video games or cell phones in a child’s room. Texting, checking social media, playing games can be occurring during the night if they are allowed in their room disrupting sleep.
• Have a regular, relaxing bedtime routine – this helps children to anticipate getting ready for sleep.
• A light bedtime snack can keep a child fueled through the night without feeling stuffed. Offer small portions of healthy options such as milk with graham crackers, fruit and a cheese stick, or trail mix with fruit.
• Keep their bedroom conducive to sleep – it should be dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool.

If a child can learn the importance of and how to get adequate sleep at a young age, this can segue into adulthood where they make sleep a priority and not just a “waste of time.” If they don’t, they may face a lifetime struggle with battling weight issues part of which may be traced back to inadequate sleep.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.
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