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Why too little sleep can cause your child to be overweight

Insufficient sleep can be manifested in many ways in children and teenagers, such as:

  • Falling asleep unintentionally in school
  • Problems with memory, concentration, problem solving; hyperactivity
  • Behavioral or mood problems.

Research is also now showing that getting too little sleep can be linked to a long list of health problems, including weight gain.

Children and teenagers (and adults, too) who don’t get enough sleep tend to weigh more than those who do get enough sleep. A recent study in 7-year-olds showed that those who averaged less than nine hours of sleep per night were significantly more likely than the others to be overweight. In another study that followed more than 8,000 children from birth, those children who slept fewer than 10.5 hours a night at 3 years old had a 45 percent higher risk of becoming obese by 7 years old, compared to children who slept more than 12 hours a night.

How hormones affect appetite and weight

There are important hormones in our bodies that can affect our appetite and weight. Studies are showing that how much sleep we get can have significant effects on these hormones. Getting too little sleep can increase the hormone that makes us feel hungry (ghrelin), and can decrease the hormone that makes us feel full (leptin).

Not getting enough sleep can also lead to muscle loss and fat gain. With too little sleep, our body is more likely to produce higher levels of a hormone (cortisol) that prompts our body to store more fat, and to use other sources for energy, such as breakdown of muscle.

Getting the right amount of sleep

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Although this is likely due to many factors, not getting enough sleep may be contributing to this significant health problem.

Making sure that your child or teenager gets the proper amount of sleep every night is one of the most important positive things you can do for their total brain and body health.

Here are some sleep recommendations to follow:

  • 1–3 years old: 12 to 14 hours a night
  • 3–5 years old: 11 to 13 hours a night
  • 6–12 years old: 10 to 11 hours a night
  • Adolescents: 9 to 9.5 hours a night