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Can Late Bedtimes Lead to Obesity in Children?

July 6, 2021 • Our Blog • General HealthSleep
Can Late Bedtimes Lead to Obesity in Children?
Genetics, mental health, and socioeconomic status can affect your child’s risk for obesity. But according to a new study, later bedtimes are also linked to an increased risk of obesity. You may already know that obesity in children is linked to their genetics, mental health, socioeconomic status, stress, and home-life situations. But did you know that it has also been linked to late bedtimes?

The Correlation Between Late Bedtimes and Childhood Obesity

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, later bedtimes for children were associated with an increased risk of obesity. After monitoring the weight, height, and waist circumferences of 107 children between the ages of one and six and observing their sleep patterns with a wrist tracker, researchers found that children who consistently went to bed after 9 p.m. — regardless of how long they slept — had a higher BMI and a wider waist circumference. However, this study’s results don’t necessarily mean that a child’s bedtime directly affects their weight gain. After all, children in different countries go to bed at different times. It’s possible that staying up late is an indicator of an irregular lifestyle, excessive screen time, and less vigilance around health habits, all of which can result in obesity. While it’s impossible to say that late bedtimes definitively result in childhood obesity, sleep loss and poor quality of sleep are indeed risk factors. In a vicious cycle, sleep loss leads to weight gain, and being overweight creates more sleep issues. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body’s production of leptin and ghrelin — two hormones that regulate appetite — changes, increasing your feelings of hunger. Additionally, sleep deprivation is linked with daytime fatigue, elevated cholesterol levels, less exercise, and growth hormone deficiency, all of which increase your risk of obesity. Conversely, being overweight heightens the chances of experiencing sleep issues. Being obese can result in osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis that affects sleep and is most commonly found in hips, knees, and toes. Obstructive sleep apnea is seven times more common in those who are obese, and obesity is a risk factor for gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can further disrupt sleep.

How Much Sleep Should Kids Get?

Pediatricians recommend that children get nine hours of sleep per night, though younger children need more. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, toddlers should aim for 11 to 14 hours of sleep each day, and children between the ages of three and five should sleep for 10 to 13 hours. Unfortunately, over half of American children don’t get enough sleep. When children are sleep-deprived, they’re less likely to finish their homework or care about their academic performance. They’re also more likely to get sick, have dark circles beneath their eyes, experience academic problems, have behavioral issues, exhibit risk-taking behaviors, be obese, and have anxiety. High school students who receive less than six hours of sleep per night are three times as likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide than their peers who receive more than eight hours of sleep per night.

How Can Parents Set A Healthy Example?

Given all the ways sleep can impact a child’s well-being, parents should prioritize instilling strong sleep hygiene practices in their children and setting a healthy example. Start enforcing a predictable sleep schedule and bedtime routine for your children as soon as possible. Invest in a comfortable mattress, limit screen time before bed, and don’t let your child eat 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Prioritize sleep and cultivate a positive attitude around sleeping by framing it as a reward. This means losing the phrase, “You have to go to bed,” and replacing it with, “You get to go to bed.” It also means you shouldn’t send your kids to bed early for misbehaving or let them stay up late as a reward for good behavior.

Helping Your Child Establish An Appropriate Sleep Schedule

If your child is having trouble establishing a consistent and appropriate sleep schedule, visit Kids’ Health in Beverly, Massachusetts. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at our leading pediatric clinic....