Insufficient Sleep Could Lead to Overweight Kids

Research findings from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital indicate that kids who don’t get enough sleep may be at increased risk of being overweight.

A study researching the connection between length of sleep and weigh for third and sixth grade children showed that kids who got less than 9 hours sleep per day were at greater risk of being overweight—regardless of their gender, race, socioeconomic status, or home environment quality.

The study showed that sixth graders short on sleep were more likely to be overweight. Third graders who got fewer hours of sleep—regardless of their BMI—were more likely to become overweight in sixth grade. The findings of this study appear in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"Many children aren’t getting enough sleep, and that lack of sleep may not only be making them moody or preventing them from being alert and ready to learn at school, it may also be leading to a higher risk of being overweight," says study lead author Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., assistant research scientist at the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development. "This study suggests that an increased risk for overweight is yet another potential consequence of short sleep duration, providing an additional reason to ensure that children are receiving adequate sleep, primarily through enforcing an age-appropriate bed time."

Data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development on reported sleep problems, sleep duration and BMI for 785 elementary school children, aged 9 to 12, was reviewed . 50% were male, 81% were white, 18% were overeight in the sixth grade. The overweight sixth grade lids slept fewer hours than those were not overweight, with boys in the majority of overweight sixth grade children.

"Even more important," Lumeng says, "is emerging research that shows a connection between sleep disruption and the hormones that regulate fat storage, appetite and glucose metabolism. Short sleep duration alters carbohydrate metabolism, and leads to impaired glucose tolerance, which can affect a person’s weight. Circadian rhythms, too, affect the body’s leptin, glucose and insulin levels."

So weight gain may not be a result of sleep’s effect on behavior, notes Dr. Lumeng, but rather sleep’s effect on hormone secretion in the body, specifically leptin and grehlin.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends these basic daily sleep requirements for children, adolescents, pre-teens and teens:

  • Preschoolers: 11-13 hours
  • Elementary school students: 10-12 hours
  • Pre-teens: 9 – 11 hours
  • Teens: 8 ½ – 9 hours

In addition to Lumeng, co-authors from the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development are Deepak Somashekar, B.S., and Niko Kaciroti, Ph.D.; Danielle Appugliese, MPH, with the Data Coordinating Center, Boston University; and Robert F. Corwyn, Ph.D., and Robert H. Bradley, Ph.D., with the Center for Applied Studies in Education, University of Arkansas.

The study was supported by the American Heart Association Fellow-to-Faculty Transition Award, and the American Heart Association Midwest Affiliate Grant-in-Aid.

Reference: Pediatrics, November 2007, Vol. 120, Issue 5.

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