Insufficient, Irregular Sleep Tied to Kids'
MONDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Sleeping in on the weekend
may help children fight obesity, a new study suggests.
Too little sleep puts kids at risk of obesity and other health
conditions, but "catch-up" sleep on weekends and holidays can
mitigate the effects of weekday sleep deprivation, researchers
"In the United States, the sleep of our children is clearly not enough," said lead researcher Dr. David Gozal, chair of pediatrics at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago.
Gozal's team monitored the sleep patterns of 308 children for a
week and compared their sleep patterns with their body mass index
(BMI), which is a measurement that takes into account height and
weight. The children, who were 4 to 10 years old, averaged eight
hours of sleep a night.
"This is way lower than the recommended amount of sleep that kids should get, which is about 9.5 to 10 hours at this age," Gozal said.
Among the children who got the recommended amount of sleep, the
risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems was nil,
"But, as the amount of sleep became shorter and the regularity of sleep became less organized, the risk for obesity increased," he said.
"Kids who had the shortest sleep and had a more disorganized sleep schedule had more than a fourfold increase in the risk of being obese," he noted.
These children also had increased risk for cardiovascular
problems and pre-diabetes, Gozal said.
However, if these children consistently slept longer on weekends
to compensate, the risk for obesity and metabolic problems was
reduced to a 2.8-fold increase. "It did not normalize it. It's
still a risk but not as much as keeping your crazy short sleep
schedule even during weekends," Gozal said.
It is this combination of less sleep and irregular sleep that
appears to result in metabolic problems, such as high blood sugar,
The report is published online Jan. 24 in advance of print
publication in the February issue of
Gozal says that other studies have shown that inadequate sleep
has biological effects, including high blood sugar and cravings for
sweet and high-fat foods. Insufficient sleep also makes it harder
to lose weight, he said.
"All this would suggest that sleep is an important regulator of metabolism," Gozal said. "If we abuse our sleep by not sleeping enough, then we are likely to pay the price by being heavy and being at risk for cardiovascular and all the other metabolic complications," he said.
Children are sleeping less for various reasons, Gozal said. Busy
family schedules and electronic media -- cell phones, computers and
TV -- interfere with healthy bedtime routines. The result is that
sleep suffers, he said, noting that while bedtime can be extended,
we still have to get up at the same time.
"Children should follow a regular [sleep] schedule," Gozal said. "Follow the rule of sleep and you will be happy," he urged.
Frederick J. Zimmerman, of the department of health services at
the University of California Los Angeles, said the study largely
confirms earlier research that found inadequate sleep is a risk
factor for obesity among children.
The new research offers a "tantalizing suggestion that sleep
that is inadequate both in duration and in consistency may have
adverse metabolic effects," he added. However, it does not explain
why obesity and sleep are related, Zimmerman said.
"It could be that obesity causes disturbed sleep or that inadequate sleep increases the risk of obesity. It could also be that a third factor, such as nighttime television, may lead both to obesity and to poor sleep," he said.
Despite these uncertainties, the consensus is that parents
should create an environment in which children can consistently get
adequate, restful sleep, Zimmerman said.
"As difficult as it is for parents to consistently enforce early bedtimes, it may still be one of the easiest ways to promote happy, healthy children," he added.
So, watch the clock, these experts say. The study found that
parents tend to overestimate the amount of sleep their kids get,
usually by 60 to 90 minutes, Gozal said.
For more information on children and sleep, visit the
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