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Sleep Helps Kids Control Weight

The importance of obtaining adequate sleep is a known influence on children’s social and emotional well-being and school performance. New research suggests obtaining appropriate sleep can make a significant difference for controlling weight among children.

The study — conducted in two waves of data collection approximately five years apart — is the first nationally representative, longitudinal investigation of the relationship between sleep, Body Mass Index (BMI) and overweight status in children aged 3 to 18.

“Our study suggests that earlier bedtimes, later wake times and later school start times could be an important and relatively low-cost strategy to help reduce childhood weight problems,” says Emily Snell. Snell is co-author of “Sleep and the Body Mass Index and Overweight Status of Children and Adolescents” in the Jan./Feb. issue of Child Development.

“We found even an hour of sleep makes a big difference in weight status,” said Snell, a Northwestern doctoral student in human development and social policy.

“Sleeping an additional hour reduced young children’s chance of being overweight from 36 percent to 30 percent, while it reduced older children’s risk from 34 percent to 30 percent.”

The Northwestern study not only differs from most other investigations of the effects of sleep on children’s weight in its five-year approach. It also helps disentangle the issue of whether sleep actually affects weight or whether children who already are overweight are simply poor sleepers. In addition, it takes into account the possible effects of other variables including race, ethnicity and income.

Snell co-wrote the article with Northwestern’s Emma K. Adam and Greg J. Duncan, assistant professor and professor of education and social policy, respectively. Adam and Duncan are fellows at the University’s Institute for Policy Research and Center for Social Disparities and Health.

Their findings also suggest that later bedtimes play a greater role in the overweight status of children aged from 3 to 8, while earlier wake times play a greater role in children aged 8 to 13. No significant differences in the effect of sleep on weight was found between boys and girls nor was there evidence that children who slept more grew more in height.

The researchers used time diaries, in which the parents or caregivers of young children or children old enough to keep diaries themselves recorded all activities — including bedtime, time asleep and wake time — over the course of a weekday and weekend day. In analyzing the diaries, they found troubling age-related trends in sleep behavior.

By age 7, children were sleeping on average less than 10 hours on weekdays. By age 14, weekday sleep time fell to 8.5 hours. A full 16 percent of adolescents aged 13 to 18 were found to sleep fewer than seven hours on weekday nights. The National Sleep Foundation recommends children aged 5 to 12 years get 10 to 11 hours of sleep and adolescents get eight to nine hours.

“Many American children are simply not getting the sleep they need. Parents, policymakers and health care providers all are concerned about the obesity epidemic among children,” says Snell. “Our results suggest that something as simple as helping children sleep more at night could reduce their risk of being overweight.”

The 2,182 children examined in the study came from a nationally representative sample called the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics.

Source: Northwestern University

Sleep Helps Kids Control Weight

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Sleep Helps Kids Control Weight. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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