Sleep: The essential ingredient to prevent childhood obesity

The world is now recognising childhood obesity to be the epidemic that it is.

Several studies are providing useful insights into the origins of obesity as well as how to reverse it.

One of those studies has found that inadequate sleep in children is just as responsible for obesity as poor eating habits.

This finding is especially important with obesity on the rise among children and teenagers.

Sleep Deprivation causes Weight Gain

Sadly, the effects of sleep loss on body weight have been addressed before—but in adults, not children. Thus, when the bedtimes of children ages 8 to 11 were reduced by 1.5 hours for seven sequential nights, the results were still surprising.

When compared to children of the same age who went to bed 1.5 hours earlier for seven sequential nights, the children who went to bed later got less sleep and consumed more calories the next day. Yet, perhaps the worst effect of these children’s sleep loss was their altered hormone levels.

Childhood Obesity: The result of confused hormones?

Similar to adults, children who lose sleep suffer from lower leptin levels, higher ghrelin levels, and are in danger of becoming insulin resistant. In order to understand how all this leads to obesity, you must first know how these hormones work in the body.

Leptin tells your brain to stop eating when you are full and ghrelin triggers hunger and tells your brain to eat. Meanwhile, insulin, which removes sugar from your blood, relies on the delicate balance between leptin and ghrelin. When you stop eating, your body produces less insulin; but, when you are eating, your body produces more insulin.

So, when adults or children do not get enough sleep, high ghrelin levels make them crave more calories and low leptin levels make it difficult for them to stop craving those calories. These conditions make the brain less and less responsive to insulin, and put the body at risk of developing diabetes.

How to get your children (and you) to Sleep

Knowing how much sleep your child needs is the first step to ensuring he or she gets adequate sleep. Overall, children require more hours of sleep than adults. For that reason, experts suggest the following every night:

  • Ages 1 to 3 years—12 to 14 hours
  • Ages 3 to 5 years—11 to 13 hours
  • Ages 5 to 12 years—10 to 11 hours
  • Ages 12 to 18 years—9 hours
  • Adults—at least 7 hours

Whichever category your child falls into, there are several additional steps you can take to not only get your children to sleep, but also improve their quality of sleep. These steps include:

  • Exercise—getting your child to sleep at night actually starts by keeping him or her active during the day. Just 30 minutes or more of play each day can help.
  • Set a time to turn off all devices—children who stay up late on the computer, playing video games, or watching television have a harder time going to sleep.
  • Set a bedtime—enforcing a bedtime and turning off devices well in advance of this bedtime is another essential factor in getting your child to sleep at a decent hour.

There is more you can do!

From stress management to diet changes, there is more you and your children can do together to get more sleep and fight childhood obesity.

For these tips and more, visit Mr Vitamins and ‘Ask a Naturopath.’

Mr Vitamins