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We all know sleep is important for ensuring your child develops both mentally and physically, but who knew that the quality of your little one’s sleep can also play a big part in ensuring they maintain a healthy weight?

When we think of the whole family living a healthy lifestyle, the focus is usually on a balanced diet along with regular exercise. However, in addition to these factors, research shows that children who have a lack of sleep during the night are more likely to develop problems with obesity in comparison with children who have a great night’s sleep.

On average, it is advised that young children aged three to five need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night. Then once the child reaches six this requirement reduces to 9 to 11 hours. If your child fails to fulfil these recommendations, there are various explanations as to why this could start to cause problems in terms of obesity as they grow up.

How are lack of sleep and obesity linked?

After a night of poor-quality sleep, the reward centres of your brain are activated, in return compelling you to eat more. Lack of sleep also upsets your body clock, thereby disrupting hormones that regulate your appetite, so increased food intake is likely. Tired children will often complain they are hungry a lot more often than usual. Over time this can be a contributing factor for an unhealthy weight gain in a child.

Sleep deprivation also increases stress levels, which could in turn increase appetite during the day. If your child is anxious it is likely to affect the quality of their sleep too and they are probably going to wake up numerous times during the night. This disruption leads to them being tired the next morning and turn to snacking more than usual, it goes around in circles. The more tired children become the more they desire to eat and the more they eat the less well they sleep.

What health problems can obesity cause?

Obesity puts children at risk of various medical problems that can potentially affect their health now as well as in the future. These include serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Bone and joint problems are more common in overweight children making involvement in physical activities more difficult.

How can sleep be improved?

There are numerous ways in which you can help your child have a great sleep. Avoid feeding meals close to bedtime and caffeine shouldn’t be allowed less than 6 hours before they are about to go to sleep. Instead of lounging around in front of the TV all day, ensure your child stays active and uses lots of energy throughout different activities. Try to make rules to keep screen time at a minimum in the evenings as this contributes to keeping the child awake. Finally, a consistent routine throughout the week can make a huge impact, ensure bedtime is at the same time each night.

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