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How Lack of Sleep Could Make Your Child Fatter

08/11/2013 | Bedtime, Health, Room to Grow, Sleep | by Catherine Godiva

All children need food and sleep. However, it seems we have become terribly confused when determining how much of each of these necessities a child needs in order to be healthy. Frequently, our children seem to have too much food and not enough sleep!


Photo courtesy of Björn Rixman (Flickr)

Photo courtesy of Björn Rixman (Flickr)


Recent studies have discovered there is actually a link between the sleep habits of children and obesity. There are three major reasons for this:


Hormonal Changes

There are a number of hormonal imbalances created by a lack of sleep.

  • Children who are sleep deprived have a decrease in the production of leptin, the hormone that signals their bodies that they are full.
  • At the same time, there is an increase in the level of ghrelin, the hormone that tells a child they are hungry.
  • Sleep deficit also elevates the level of cortisol, a hormone that regulates how the body uses energy. Elevated levels can affect insulin resistance and lead to a higher Body Mass Index (BMI).


In addition, a child with too little sleep may experience cravings for carbohydrates. The brain is fueled by blood sugar (glucose). When sleep deprived, these levels are higher, leading to a desire for starchy and sweet foods, instead of dairy products and vegetables.


Disruption of Sleep Patterns

In a previous post, we discussed the need for a consistent, regular sleep schedule. One reason for this is that poor sleep messes up your child’s circadian rhythm, the clock that regulates glucose and insulin. As mentioned previously, when these hormones are out of balance, weight gain can be a result.

Here are some tips to help avoid disruption of sleep patterns:

1)     Avoid giving your child a bedtime snack – sugars and grains especially – as they raise your child’s blood sugar which can inhibit sleep.

2)     Keep the room as dark as possible to keep from disrupting the circadian rhythm. And remember, if you turn the light on, your child’s body will cease producing the hormone melatonin, important for aiding good sleep.

3)     The temperature in your child’s room should not be above seventy degree. Be especially aware if your child has an upstairs bedroom – remember heat rises.


Activity or Lack of It

Part of the problem when we look at childhood obesity is that a child who does not get enough sleep and, therefore, has metabolic and hormonal imbalances, not only has their dietary intake affected, but also their energy expenditure. The result is less physical activity.


Lack of sleep also causes a child to be tired during the day and less likely to participate voluntarily in physical activity. A growing child needs at least thirty minutes of physical activity each day. Physical activity has been shown actually to help a child sleep better.

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