The evidence just keeps coming: sleep plays a critical role in helping children maintain a healthy weight, and protecting them from the health risks associated with being overweight and obese.
The results of a recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association indicate that every additional hour of sleep young children receive can reduce their risk of being overweight.
Researchers in New Zealand studied the sleep habits and weight changes of 244 children between the ages of 3-7. To investigate the relationship between sleep and weight, they measured the children's height, weight, BMI and body composition. They also tracked children's sleep, physical activity, and diet at ages 3, 4, and 5. What did they find?
- Kids who slept more between the ages of 3-5 had lower BMI at age 7 than their shorter-sleeping counterparts
This latest study joins a large and growing body of evidence that sleep has a significant impact on children's weight. Children who are sleep deprived are at greater risk for weight problems. The risk starts early, and can extend into adulthood. Recent research into the sleep-weight connection has shown:
- Babies and toddlers who slept fewer than 12 hours per night had a greater risk of being overweight by the time they reached pre-school.
Helping children develop strong sleep habits is an important investment in their long-term health -- and as this new study and others indicate, you can't start too soon. But how much sleep is enough?
Researchers in the current study reported that the children in their study slept 11 hours per night, on average. For children this young, this just isn't enough. Kids need more sleep than adults -- and not just very young children. Through adolescence, children require additional sleep. Here's a quick rundown on children's sleep needs, and tips for parents to help their children develop strong sleep habits:
New babies will sleep 11 to 18 hours day, but any new parent knows, there's no predicting exactly when this sleeping will take place!
- Stimulate your newborn with light and noise during the day, and create a quieter environment at night. This will help strengthen their developing internal clock.
Infants up to one year old need 9-12 hours of sleep per night, as well as naps during the day.
- Put your infant to bed when she's sleepy, not exhausted or already asleep. This will help strengthen your baby's self-soothing skills, and help her develop her independence at bedtime.
Children 3-5 need 11-13 hours per night. Their nighttime sleep is even more important now, since regular naps are often a thing of the past.
- Turn off the television. There's evidence that TV before bedtime disrupts children's sleep -- especially when it's violent.
Children 5-12 need 10-11 hours of sleep per night. By this time, kids are getting busy -- with school, sports, and social schedules. Their sleep is critical.
- Be consistent. Don't let busy schedules and extended playtime encroach on bedtime. Same time, same bed, every night. Keep bedrooms free of electronic media.
Promoting strong sleep habits in your children is a process that starts early and really never stops. Your efforts can make all the difference in helping your child maintain a healthy weight and good overall heath over the length of their lives.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™
The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep
Everything you do, you do better with a good night's sleep™