Sleep to Fight Childhood Obesity
More sleep could prevent children from becoming overweight or obese.
With longer daylight hours and a relaxed schedule during the summer, children may be taking a vacation from healthy sleep patterns.
But adequate sleep is essential that want to reduce a child’s chance of becoming obese, say health experts.
“I’m seeing more patients and more obese patients,” says Melissa Moore, Ph.D., pediatric sleep center, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
This is a concern because childhood obesity is linked to serious health problems including sleep apnea, impaired glucose tolerance, high blood pressure and joint discomfort.
“You really need to protect a child’s sleep time,” says Leslie Lytle, professor and chair, health behavior, Gillings School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Although you may be tempted, don’t wait until fall to get your child back to healthful sleep patterns, Moore says.
Here are steps the experts recommend you take now to nudge your child towards beneficial sleep and healthy weight.
1. Switch off the electronics 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime to counter the stimulating effect of television or computers, Moore says.
2. Avoid heavy meals before bed, but offer a light snack, such as yogurt, if your child is hungry. Eliminate caffeine-containing stimulants including chocolate, energy drinks, tea and colas.
3. Establish a consistent bedtime ritual. As your child gets into his pajamas, chooses a book for you to read and is tucked in, his body is receiving cues that it’s time for sleep. Limit the process to 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Don’t let a break in routine to become a bad habit. If your family is up late for an activity, get back to regular sleep hours as soon as possible. You’re not helping your children if you allow them to stay up and sleep in the next morning, even on weekends.
Although losing sleep is linked to excessive weight gain in young children, researchers aren’t sure how this happens.
“We have some ideas,” says Lytle, who has done extensive research on children’s sleep habits and obesity risk.
Children who are awake and about for more hours may be eating more, even unconsciously. In addition, they could be so tired they’re less active, according to Lytle.
Some studies suggest that sleeplessness triggers hormones that influence weight gain.
Teens are less susceptible to weight gain due to lack of sleep, Lytle says.
In addition, adolescents may be able to make up their sleep deficit. The researcher doesn’t know if this is also true for young children.
School age used to be the “golden age of sleep”, says Moore, an expert on children’s sleep issues.
“These children had no problems getting enough sleep; now I’m seeing more school-age children with sleep problems.”
She recommends 10 hours a night for a 10-year old and “not much less than 9 hours a night for an adolescent.”
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