Lack of Sleep for Children May Mean Higher Risk of Adult Obesity

Mother putting daughter to bed

If your child doesn’t get enough sleep, there might be more at stake than a cranky kid the next day.

A recent study from the University of Warwick in Great Britain suggests that children and pre-teens who get less sleep than others their age gain more weight as adults and are at higher risk to become overweight or obese.

Researchers reviewed data gathered in population studies from about 75,000 infants, children and teens up to age 18. The data was analyzed using methods that included questionnaires and wearable technology. Researchers monitored the participants for three years.

Results showed that the participants who slept for less time than recommended by the U.S. National Sleep Foundation gained more weight and overall were 58 percent more likely to become overweight or obese.

The National Sleep Foundation guidelines recommend:

  • 12 to 15 hours of sleep for infants ages 4 to 11 months
  • 11 to 14 hours of sleep for children ages 1 to 2
  • 10 to 13 hours of sleep for children ages 3 to 5
  • 9 to 11 hours of sleep for children ages 6 to 13
  • 8 to 10 hours for children ages 14 to 17

For parents, the findings show that they have one more tool to help their children avoid obesity, the researchers say.

How to Help Your Child Go to Sleep

Being overweight can lead to health problems such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, says Carol L. Rosen, MD, medical director of pediatric sleep services at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

Here are some suggestions from Dr. Rosen for parents to help their children sleep well at night:

  • Give rewards and praise – Give your child a sticker and praise when he or she goes to bed on time and then goes to sleep. Then give a special reward, such a small toy or book, when he or she earns three stickers.
  • Avoid stimulating activities after dinner – Turn off the television, iPad and other electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. For younger children, a bath followed by reading a book together can help your child – and you – unwind. Watch out for stimulants like caffeine in beverages (coffee, tea, energy drinks) that can make it harder for your child to fall asleep at night.
  • Make sure the bedroom is sleep-friendly – cool, dark, and comfy – The temperature of your child’s room should not be too warm and perhaps a little on the cool side. Bedsheets, pillows, comforter, blanket, pillowcases and pajamas should be clean and comfortable. The room should be dark so your child can produce a natural sleep hormone called melatonin. A night-light is fine, but avoid putting TVs in your child’s bedroom or having televisions on at bedtime.
  • Keep a regular schedule – Have your child wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends, and don’t vary wake-up time by more than one to two hours. Sleeping in late on the weekends can shift your child’s biological clock and make it harder to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime during the week. Trouble falling asleep at night can make it hard to get the recommended hours of sleep, especially during the school year when school start times often are early.
  • Be a good role model with your sleep habits – Get enough sleep and keep a regular wake/sleep schedule for yourself to be your best for yourself, family and community.

Related link

Pediatric Sleep Services at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital


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