What a waist: Lost sleep linked to weight gain in kids

Most kids don’t get enough sleep, plain and simple. Lack of sleep leads to sluggishness and inattention, and it can cause kids to pack on the pounds. Chronic sleep deprivation may also have other long-term effects — everything from catching more colds and viruses to anxiety and depression.

Most children between the ages of 4 and 10 do not get the recommended amount of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 sleep 11 to 13 hours daily and that children ages 5-10 sleep 10 to 11 hours. But this can be a hard task when some moms don’t make it home from work by that time, or many kids have afternoon activities that aren’t over until 6 pm or later — and then it’s dinner time. Yet, regardless of schedules, sleep needs to be a priority. There have been many studies on children’s sleep and they all have similar findings.

The correlation

Harvard School of Public Health found that lack of sleep contributes greatly to obesity in children and adults. In addition, the number of adults getting adequate sleep measured as at least eight hours each night has drastically dwindled from 35 percent to 28 percent within a seven-year time frame.

Columbia University performed a study that found that teens (16 or younger) who got less than six hours of sleep each night were at a 20 percent greater risk of being obese by the time they reached age 21.

In New Zealand, a study showed that for every hour of lost sleep in childhood, adults were at a 50 percent greater risk of being obese by the time they reached age 32.

While the individual studies and their subjects differ, all of them suggest that lack of sleep causes weight gain. Let’s also remember that in addition to weight gain, it also causes low performance in school, anxiety, poor judgment, and more. Just consider how we get through a day when extremely tired ourselves, and how easy it can be to overeat when we grab a snack to combat our fatigue.

Can you catch up on lost sleep?

Researchers at the University of Chicago say that if kids catch up on weekend sleep, it may help prevent them from gaining extra weight. This study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that it’s beneficial to let our kids sleep in on weekends. It shows that obese children did sleep less overall, their sleep schedules were more irregular, and they were less likely to experience “catch-up” sleep on the weekends. Compared to children who slept about nine hours a night, children who slept an average of seven hours and had the most irregular sleep patterns had a fourfold greater risk of being obese.

Kids who maintained irregular weekday sleep schedules but made up for lost sleep during weekends were less likely to be obese than children who missed out on the catch-up sleep. Parents must be careful not to let children sleep too late though, which can throw off their ability to fall asleep at bedtime. An hour is a good catch-up time allotment.

So try your best to keep a regular sleep schedule for your kids, but when they just can’t get those hours of uninterrupted snooze time, it might be beneficial to let them sleep in a bit during the weekend.

Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babbl‌e.com. Find Sullivan on her blogs, Just Write Mom and Some Puppy To Love.