Children gaining weight due to poor sleep. Is it possible?

09 June, 2018 / Mateusz

How long should a child sleep?

It is assumed that an adult person should sleep more or less 8 hours, but such standard is much too low in the case of children. According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, children’s developing bodies will be rested only after sleeping – during the day (i.e. including naps) – for:

  • from 12 to 16 hours – if the child is less than a year,
  • from 11 to 14 hours – during the second year of life,
  • from 10 to 13 hours – aged between 3 and 5 years.

Children between 6 and 12 years, who do not always take naps during the day, should sleep 9 to 12 hours while adolescents aged 13 to 18 years should sleep for 8 to 10 hours a day.

Insufficient sleep is the risk of excessive weight and child obesity

Research performed in 1998 by the Quebec Institute of Statistics on over 2000 children – observed, since the age of 5 months to 6 years of age – have shown that the amount of sleep time is strongly associated with excessive weight or obesity during early childhood. The results of these studies indicate that sleeping shorter than 10 hours during early childhood might greatly increase the risk of excessive weight and obesity.

According to researchers, there is a reason to believe that the effects of an insufficient amount of sleep (sleep less than 9 hours a day) during the infant period are felt by children when they reach the age of 2,5 years. It is worth adding that there are also studies which show that there is a relationship between the lack of sufficient sleep in ages: 6 months,1 year and 2 years and childhood obesity in three-year-olds.

According to researchers from the UK, who in 2005 conducted a study on over 8000 children at the age of 7, insufficient sleep is one of the four major causes of excessive weight and obesity in children. Besides sleep, the risk factors concerning excessive weight and obesity also include: high birth weight, obesity in parents and a long time spent watching TV.

Improving the quality of sleep reduces the risk of obesity in children

When your child gains weight you ought to quickly change the little one’s sleep habits. Canadian researchers emphasize that correcting problems with sleeping at an early age is of great importance in the treatment of children. They noted that the risk of excessive weight and obesity did not increase in the group of children who showed an increase in weight at the age of 2.5 and had their sleeping parameters quickly corrected (sleep has been raised to 10 hours a day). This means that eliminating problems with sleep at an early stage may not only prevent obesity in children, but also prevent all the related health consequences.

Why does insufficient sleep lead to obesity?

Insufficient amount of sleep can contribute to a hormonal imbalance in the body. Among the many different negative consequences of such a state of affairs, one should especially underline eating disorders. How does insufficient sleep influence eating patterns?

While you sleep, your body produces specified doses of ghrelin (hormone that stimulates appetite) and leptin (hormone that reduces the feeling of hunger). When you sleep for an insufficient amount of time, the level of ghrelin increases, while leptin-plummets. As a result, you wake up hungry. What is more, a sleepy human body calls for a higher dose of energy to be able to function, even if in “safe mode”. While hungry, you reach for more caloric, often unhealthy meals. This is also the case with children.

Besides ghrelin and leptin, our appetite is also influenced by endocannabinoids (lipids operating similarly to compounds found in cannabis; they turn eating into great pleasure, especially when it comes to all kinds of unhealthy snacks, e.g. crisps). Healthy sleep enables you to produce such a quantity of these substances, which reinforce the feeling of hunger in the morning. However, it disappears during the early afternoon.

As explained by the research, insufficient amount of sleep increases the quantity of endocannabinoids to a level which cannot be quickly reduced. As a result, increased appetite accompanies you up to the evening. Calories that are be consumed just before going to bed will not be burned, therefore contribute to weight gain.

That’s not all, due to the fact that sleep deficiency also leads to metabolism slowdown by 5% – 20% (these results were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011). Increased doses of food will therefore take a longer time to be digested and thus be deposited in larger quantities in the body.

Another consequence of an insufficient amount of sleep is the risk of diabetes mellitus. Distorted insulin balance (also in prediabetes states) contributes significantly to metabolism slowdown and accumulation of fat.

What to do when your child is gaining weight due to an insufficient amount of sleep?

Sleep deficiencies ought to be corrected as soon as possible. It is important to pay attention not only to the duration of the sleep, but also its quality. Notice that sleep lasting from 9 pm and 8 am in the morning may not be sufficient if the child will often wake up in the middle of the night and make longer in breaks during rest, or if the sleep is disturbed.

In order to help your child fall asleep, you should introduce specified rituals, which would enable the child to calm down:

  • reduce motion games or any activities that excite the child during the evening,
  • the bedroom should be properly prepared (thorough ventilation, adequate humidity and air temperature, silencing the room, eliminating the sources of blue light, i.e. TV or the computer),
  • the child’s dinner ought to be light,
  • it is good to determine fixed times for bathing, reading books together or encourage the child to sleep in a different way,
  • it is worth using a weighted blanket, if such was recommended by the therapist.