Tuesday 14 September 2010 by Helen

A new study, published last week, revealed that babies and children under the age of 5 who are getting less than 10 hours of sleep at night are more likely to be overweight or obese five years later.

Probably not what you want to hear if you’re currently struggling to establish your baby’s sleeping patterns.  As the bearer of the news, I might not be the best person to then go on and advise you to try and take this information with a pinch of salt. At the end of the day, sleeping patterns are largely psychological, so, if you become too worried about how many hours of sleep baby isn't getting, the tension will transfer to your baby and create further sleeping problems.  The study is not saying lack of sleep equals obesity, it’s implying an increased risk.  I’m going to take a closer look at the research behind this revelation, take the common sense approach (as opposed to the neurotic one) and hopefully provide a balanced, more reassuring viewpoint...

colour photo of baby sleeping

What the study says

Apparently researchers have found that insufficient sleep at night could contribute to obesity in later life, this is a according to a study published in the journal ‘Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.’ The same study also suggests that napping cannot replace the benefits of a decent nights sleep. Dr Janice Bell, from the University of Washington, who conducted the study is promoting the view that at least it's something that's within our power to change as part of our aims to tackle obesity. She studied data from a nationwide survey in 1997 and 2002. The findings were that children up to the age of four who didn't sleep enough at night were 80 % more likely to be obese 5 years later when compared to others who were getting more sleep. Interestingly, there was not the same link when older children between the ages of 5 and 13 didn't get enough sleep.

Napping doesn't count

Naps will obviously aid your child's general well being and alertness, but according to the research they are not comparable with night time sleep in terms of benefits. Peadiatrician, Dr Jennifer Shu also puts a positive spin on the lack of sleep increasing risk of obesity findings by stating 'it is just giving parents another reason to prioritise healthy sleeping habits.'

Why does lack of sleep contribute to weight gain?

There are several theories as to how lack of night-time sleep contributes to weight gain. The three main ones being the following;

  • The longer a child is awake for, the more time they have to eat.
  • In adults shortened sleep leads to changes in hormones, which can increase hunger and decreases metabolism. This quite possibly transfers to children.
  • The less sleep a child has had, the less energy they have to do substantial excercise.

I can certainly see some logic in all three theories, from an adult's perspective. If I take myself for example, when I'm up early, I'm more likely to consume a greater amount of food. Particularly throughout the morning, mainly due to the much longer gap between breakfast and lunch. And if I am tired, I'm far more likely to reach for a sugary snack or just eat more in general to give myself energy. I think that's why, despite best intentions, a Monday is always a hard day to start a healthy eating plan, as the tiredness from the weekend kicks in, and you just about do what you can to stay awake and get through the day. When it comes to exercise, although it does give you an energy boost, it requires you to have the energy to do it in the first place, so that theory also makes sense. But this study is talking about children under 4, so as much as an adult's behavior is relevant to some extent, adults are in control of thier habits and routines, whereas babies and toddlers are not, it's solely down to thier parents.

Every parent wants their child to sleep well. The act of sleeping is out of your control. All you can do is work on what factors you do have control over, so trying to establish a routine for example. Though this may not be a magic solution, it's one way you can positively influence your little one's sleep pattern.


Photo credit: via flickr -  Gaglias

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Tags: sleep | 
# re: Babies who sleep less are more likely to become obese
Wednesday, April 06, 2011 4:02 by yalova
thank you good post

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