Though there are a myriad of ways children can gain weight — sugary drinks, too much TV time, fatty fast food, too little exercise, etc. — it seems that there are few ways to combat childhood obesity. Luckily, a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests a possible new strategy: sleep.
According to the research, disordered, fragmented, or insufficient amounts of sleep contribute to much of the weight gain seen in children today. The study found that both breathing problems during sleep and insufficient amounts of sleep are independently associated with childhood obesity.
Researchers collected data on 1,900 children age six and under, observing the sleeping habits and body mass index of each until age 15. At ages seven, 10, and 15 years of age, the researchers compared the children’s body mass index.
They found that children who had the most sleep-disordered breathing symptoms were more likely to be overweight at each age, and those whose sleep-disordered breathing symptoms were worst at age five or six had up to 80% increased odds of being overweight at age 15.
Similarly, kids who had insufficient sleep at ages five and six were also more likely to be overweight at age 15, having a 60% to 100% increase in the odds of being obese.
While it’s common knowledge that adults require an average of eight to eight and a half hours of sleep each night, the amount of sleep a child requires is dependent on his or her age. A baby less than one year old needs between 14 to 15 hours a day. A one- to three-year-old requires 12 to 14 hours. Three- to six-year-olds require 10 to 12 hours a day. Seven- to 12-year-olds need 10 to 11 hours a day, and a child above the age of 12 needs as much sleep as an adult. Sleep training is also recommended for any baby between the ages of three to five months.
In order to ensure that children get enough sleep, a fixed bedtime may be all that’s needed. If a child still has trouble getting to sleep, tart cherry juice, kiwis, seaweed, walnuts, almonds, chamomile tea, and peanut butter sandwiches can all help children get to sleep.