Kids, Obesity & Sleep Deprivation

Kids, Obesity & Sleep Deprivation

Our tired kids are growing into fat adults

sleeping dad - trade adChildren who don’t sleep enough in the first years of life face a higher risk of obesity as they age. A study released from MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) in Massachusetts found that sleep deprivation at ANY point during infancy and early childhood can have a dramatic impact on body fat by the time a child reaches 7 years old.

That’s not good news…

Long term effects of sleepy kids

“Contrary to some published studies, we did not find a particular ‘critical period’ for the influence of sleep duration on weight gain. Instead, insufficient sleep at any time in early childhood had adverse effects,” said Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, chief of General Pediatrics at MGHfC and lead author of the Pediatrics paper in a press release.

The study found that children who slept less than 12 hours per day between 6 months and 2 years old, less than 10 hours between 3 and 4 years old and less than 9 hours between 5 and 7 years old were a high obesity risk. And as those children grow up, their poor sleeping habits and weight gain continues.

Compared to 20 years ago, there are twice as many overweight kids between the ages of 6 and 11 in the United States today. What’s more, the number of obese teens has more than tripled. The bad news is that childhood obesity has reached epidemic status. The good news is that the solution is within our grasp – and it starts with healthy sleep habits for the whole family.

Lifelong sleep habits start early

As parents, you’re the biggest influencer of your child’s sleep habits, which begin in infancy and last a lifetime. As your baby reaches toddlerhood, enforcing a regular sleep schedule prepares him or her for the routine of school, but there’s so much more you can do. Here are a few suggestions that will help your child sleep better. For life!

sleepy kids

  • Exercise (with your kids) every day – Sleep is the fuel in our gas tanks. It gives us the get-up-and-go to physically move our bodies during the day. When we don’t use that fuel, sleep is elusive – for kids and adults alike. So get outside every day, move that body and get happy – it’s good for your sleeper!
  • Nix sugar and caffeine – Sweetened juices and sodas are bad for all of us – but they’re even more dangerous for a child’s immature metabolism. Try some warm milk before bed. According to WebMD, your mom was right after all.
  • Limit screen time – Just like a rooster crows at first light, the light from an iPad, laptop or TV sends a signal to your child’s brain that it’s time to wake up and get busy. Power down all electronic devices two hours before bedtime.
  • Follow a routine – You need to relax before sleep. So does your child. Doing things in the same order each night (brush teeth, put pajamas on, read together, cuddle for a while) will help your child begin to understand how to relax before bed.
  • Anticipate (and avoid) conflicts – If you know your child is going to plead for one more drink, one more story, one more whatever, make those requests part of your routine. Rather than negotiating, give into the “one more” and then make it clear that one is the limit – always the limit. Your child will feel like s/he’s winning and you’ll make the settling down smoother.
  • Create a cocoon – We all sleep better in cool, dark, quiet environments. Create a welcoming, soothing bedroom for your child that sends a strong sleep signal. We also think a supportive mattress supports your dreams for a healthier, happier life. If you’re not sure how support, conformability or firmness can contribute to your child’s good night’s sleep, we can help: best mattress for a healthy back.

As with anything health related, if you’re concerned about your child’s sleep habits or sleep health, always consult your doctor.