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Alaska Sleep Education Center

Childhood Obesity and Sleep

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on Feb 25, 2019 2:00:00 PM

We all know the feeling. You wake up on the right side of the bed feeling refreshed and well rested. Not only does it keep you healthy physically but your brain has time to regenerate keeping memories and knowledge alive and well. Unfortunately, parents are struggling with busy schedules and packed calendars to instill this important lifestyle on their children.

kid_and_clock820In a socially connected world with the Internet at our fingertips, video games, social media, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Snapchat are replacing important sleep for children.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children between the ages of 5 and 10 years get 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night, and kids between the ages of 10 and 17 get 8.5 to 9.25 hours. And although some parents believe children can catch up on sleep during the weekends, studies find otherwise.

In April 2018, a meta-analysis published in Sleep examined the results from 42 studies from around the globe, covering a total of more than 75,000 children between the ages of 0 and 18. The children were split into two groups — “short sleepers” and “regular sleepers” — based on their observance to the National Sleep Foundation guidelines. The participants were followed for an average of three years to gauge how their BMIs changed over time.

The research findings were not surprising:

  • Short sleepers were children who received less sleep for their age group were significantly more likely to gain more weight than regular sleepers.
  • Children who slept less than they should through the National Sleep guidelines were 58 percent more likely to become overweight or worse, obese.

A 2015 study on sleep patterns and obesity from the National Institutes of Health found similar results in the trend of childhood obesity. The report found late bedtimes after 9 p.m. magnified the association between short sleeping and obesity.

School-age children ages 8 to 17 years old also found sleep duration as an important for developmental group. A smaller study of obese 13 year olds correlated screen time as an issue for late sleeping with a mean bedtime of 10 p.m. and a wake-up time of 7 a.m.

“Maintaining a regular and early bedtime schedule during the week, as well as across weekdays and weekends, may be an important obesity prevention strategy by reducing the behavioral and metabolic changes that occur as a result of shifted sleep timing.”

In three combined literature reviews from studies on infancy and childhood risk factors in sleep duration, more than 8,000 British children from birth to age seven were studied. Those who slept fewer than 10 and a half hours by age three had a 45 kid_sleeppercent higher risk of becoming obese by age seven.

A similar cohort study in the U.S. of 915 infants to age three found infants averaging fewer than 12 hours of sleep a day had twice the odds of obesity by age three compared to those sleeping 12 hours or more.

Additional factors with shorter sleep duration was included in the U.S. study with maternal depression during pregnancy, introduction of solid foods before the age of four months, and infant television viewing all variables.

Confronting the issue from a sleep pattern perspective is important for parents. “With the increasing rates of obesity in children, it's likely there will also be an increase in sleep apnea,” said Dr. Jodi A. Mindell, a pediatric sleep expert and board member of National Sleep Foundation. Along with health risks, unhealthy sleep patterns can lead to difficulties in school, friendships, and family life.

Daytime sleep apnea symptoms in children:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention
  • Behavior problems
  • Sleepiness

Nighttime sleep apnea symptoms in children:

  • Snoring
  • Breathing pauses during sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Mouth breathing
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning, even after getting the proper amount of sleep

To encourage a healthier lifestyle for your childhood, the National Institute of Health gives the following tips:

  • Be supportive. Children are perspective and know if they are overweight. They do not need to be reminded or singled out. Focus any lifestyle changes instead on living healthier as a family.
  • Plan family activities that involve exercise. Instead of watching television, go hiking or biking, walk around the block or buy a basketball goal. Offer choices and let your children decide what could be good activities. In the summer, think about scheduling pool time to encourage activity that is enjoyable and strenuous.
  • Be together for meals. Eat meals as a family and eat at the table, not in front of the television. Eat slowly and enjoy the food. Have conversation, ask questions and listen attentively so you give everyone a chance to talk between bites.
  • Don't use food as a reward or punishment. Children should not be placed on restrictive diets unless done so by a doctor for medical reasons. Children need food for growth, development and energy. Don’t use it as a strategy to help them lose weight because they will develop an unhealthy relationship with healthy food. Rewarding with desserts for eating vegetables, for example, will produce veggie haters.

The Alaska Sleep Clinic is available for free phone consultations to help you navigate childhood obesity and sleep apnea. Talking to your family doctor and keeping a sleep journal on your child’s sleeping patterns can help you connect the dots to help your child lead a healthier life.

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Topics: OSA in children, weight

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