There seems to be a number of contributing factors to the obesity epidemic our nation is facing. Some of these include excessive caloric intake, decreased physical activity and cultural influences. Now some researchers are investigating whether sleep deprivation may contribute to obesity.
Research presented at the International AC21 Research Festival points out that short sleep duration may lead to obesity through an increase of appetite via hormonal changes caused by the sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can produce the hormone ghrelin, which can stimulate appetite and creates less leptin, which suppresses appetite.
Babies and children under the age of five getting less than 10 hours of sleep at night are more likely to be overweight or obese five years later. Insufficient sleep at night may be a lasting risk factor for obesity later in life (napping cannot replace the benefits of nighttime sleep). Babies and children up to age four who didn't sleep enough at night were 80 percent more likely to be obese five years later. In older children (five to 13) this same link to obesity was not seen.
As for kids, studies show that most are not getting enough sleep. There is an epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity, and video games and fast food are not solely to blame. Researchers uncovered that shortened sleep in children under five years old predicts weight problems later on. Also, short nighttime sleep duration increases the risk of early teens to shift from normal weight to overweight. In other words, adolescents who sleep less are more likely to pile on the pounds.
Sleep disorders in young children may be avoided by following established bedtime routines. Begin the calming-down process at dinnertime. Dinner should not be served watching T.V. every night. After dinner, allow the child to have some quiet playtime. Offer puzzles, blocks or books (as long as the activity is relatively quiet). Run a warm bath and allow for some playtime in the bath. After the bath, get your child in a routine of getting their pajamas on, brushing their teeth and cleaning up. Put your child into bed with a few books (or feel free to join in this time). Set a limit and have some relaxing reading time before bed. Have the books seem like a special treat every night, which will also help develop a love of reading. Most importantly, be firm with the bedtime routine. The less you deviate from it, the easier it will become. This lets your child know what to expect each night. Repetition for young children especially can be extremely comforting.
Many teens' hectic schedules keep them up late many nights. Most teens need at least 8.5 hours of sleep. However, studies show 85 percent of teens are getting less than eight hours every night. This sleep deficit causes many problems, including adverse effects on their health, causing weight gain. Some ways to prevent sleep disorders may be to avoid caffeinated beverages after lunchtime and limit stimulating activities before bedtime. Also, limiting extracurricular activities and practicing relaxation techniques before bedtime, such as gentle stretches, help prevent symptoms of insomnia.
So, are we overweight because we sleep less, or do we sleep less because we are overweight? Until we know these answers, it makes sense to include a good night's sleep in any child's routine. It turns out that getting good, regular sleep may help to eat more regular meals, which can be associated with better weight control. We should avoid using food as a "pick-me-up" when it turns out that it's really just sleep that we need!
Follow Joanna Dolgoff, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joannadolgoffmd