A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics on December 11th 2014 found a strong connection between insufficient sleep in early childhood and being overweight in adolescence. This was independent of a similar correlation that was also found between breathing disturbances during sleep and subsequent overweight.

Researchers in England studied more than 1800 children in Southern England and found that children who slept less than 10 hours/night at ages 4-6, according to parental report, were more than twice as likely to be overweight at age 15 than those children who slept more than 10 hours/night. For reference, most kindergarten-age children need between 10-11 hours of sleep/night.

Insufficient (and poor-quality) sleep can disrupt the balance of the hormones that regulate hunger and the sense of fullness, ghrelin and leptin. This may well be the explanation for the correlation between these kids’ insufficient sleep and later overweight, especially if their lack of sleep at that age was indicative of chronic and ongoing lack of sleep which persisted into adolescence.

How can you make sure your kids get the sleep their bodies need?

  1. Keep them on a regular sleep/wake schedule 7 days a week WITHOUT significant variation on the weekend
  2. Reduce exposure to bright light during the last 2-3 hours of the day
  3. Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime (this includes wrestling in the living room right before bed, or letting them watch Law and Order: SVU before climbing into bed)
  4. Keep the bedroom dark and quiet and free of pets, televisions, cell phones and other media
  5. Avoid caffeine intake for at least 8 hours prior to bed

About the Author

Dennis Rosen, M.D.

Dennis Rosen, M.D., is a pediatric pulmonologist and sleep specialist who practices at Boston Children's Hospital.

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