Sleep May Influence Weight in Children

By: Joanne Cavis, UGA Cooperative Extension

Are you one of the people very concerned about the growing number of over-weight children in our community? Then, consider this . . . A study from New Zealand lends support to the belief that sleep deprivation may increase risk for being overweight in children.

These researchers measured children from age 3 to 7, not only with scales, but with special devices to check activity levels and sleep duration over several days at various periods in the children’s lives. The study showed a 61% reduction in risk for being overweight or obese at age 7 for each extra hour of sleep the child experienced. Interestingly, the increase in weight was mainly in unhealthy fat mass. Fat free mass (muscle and bone) did not differ in groups that got more sleep and in those who got less.

The researchers surmise that the children are overweight because they have more time to eat, especially when they might not be hungry. It could be due to change in hormonal levels that regulate their appetite or they may not burn as many calories over a 24 hour period. They may also not be as active during the day because they feel tired.

How much sleep is enough? Of course this varies, but studies have shown that more children and teens are now sleep deprived. They are staying up later to watch TV, play video games or do homework. A consistent time to go to sleep and a sleep ritual to help children calm down for sleep is becoming less common in many homes.

A child or teen needs at least 15-30 minutes before bed to wind down. This means no television, loud music, computers or active play. Good rituals that promote sleep are a warm bath, a nice back rub, reading or being red to or relaxing to soft music.

Sleep requirements at night vary by age and how much of a nap a child takes during the day. For a toddler, 10-13 hours of sleep at night may be required, while a child over age 4 will need 10-12 hours per night. Teens usually can get by with 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep, but many are not getting close to that amount, especially during the school year.

Questions??? Call me in Columbus at 706.653.4200.



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