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Children's Sleeping Habits Affect Weight
Children's Sleeping Habits Affect Weight

Dietitian, Juliette Kellow reports on the link between children's sleeping habits and their weight, and gives her tips to help your kids get a good night's sleep.

Sleep Off the Pounds

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

If your child is piling on the pounds, you might want to check they’re getting enough sleep. Dr Shahrad Taheri from the University of Bristol reported in this month’s journal, Archives of Diseases of Childhood that there is now a wealth of research to support the idea that a lack of sleep causes obesity in children.

As well as disturbing metabolism, which can contribute to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, he says that a lack of zzz’s alters hormones that affect appetite, causing us to overeat.

The data suggests that just two or three nights without enough sleep can have this worrying effect.

It was even shown that there was an association between insufficient sleep at age two and a half and obesity at the age of seven. Suggesting that sleep at this age could play a part in programming the area of the brain regulating appetite and energy expenditure.

Other hormones, such as insulin, cortisol (a stress hormone) and growth hormone are also disturbed by too little sleep, potentially increasing the desire for high calorie foods. Grehlin, a hormone released by the stomach to signal hunger, was 15% higher in those who had only five hours sleep.

Plus, suffering with fatigue means that children may be too tired to exercise or be active during the day. As a direct result there is less energy expenditure, but also children taking part in less activity are less likely to have a good night's sleep.

Dr Taheri realises that getting more sleep is unlikely to be the only solution to the obesity problem striking the nations children, but it shouldn’t be dismissed. ‘Sleep is probably not the only answer to the obesity pandemic, but its effect should be taken seriously, as even small changes in energy balance are beneficial’ he says.

WLR says:

As well as the points raised in this study, going to bed late means children have more time to snack on their favourite foods and this can result in an excess of calories, which leads to weight gain. It can be notoriously difficult to get children and teenagers to bed earlier; here are some tips you can use to help your kids get a good night's sleep.

Tips for Getting Children to Sleep

  • Agree a bedtime and stick to it, giving your child a reminder around 15 minutes beforehand – so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
  • Have some wind down time. Make the hour before bedtime relaxing and calm.
  • Run them a nice warm bath.
  • Read a story in a slow, low voice just before going off to sleep.
  • Give your child a warm milky drink.
  • Ensure your child has some exercise throughout the day.
  • Avoid big meals before bedtime.
  • Make sure the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet.
  • Don’t allow watching TV or playing video games etc within an hour of bedtime.

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Useful Information

Some of these tips have been taken from ‘Sleep For Kids’, part of the National Sleep Foundation. For more information visit www.sleepfoundation.org

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Parents can use the diaries, databases and weight loss tools in WLR to check calorie intake and see how balanced their diet is. Try it free for 24 hours.

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