Does Sleep Deprivation Make Children Fat?

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Young people are not immune to the sleep-straining pressures of modern life. With an ever-increasing list of commitments, children have been getting less and less sleep in recent years. Meanwhile, obesity in childhood has become increasingly common. Short sleep can increase the risk of obesity and, in turn, the risk of disease in adulthood.

Dr. Currie and Dr. Cappuccio of Warwick Medical School in the UK recently published a research review in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases linking sleep deprivation to childhood obesity.



Research Associates Short Sleep with Obesity

  • One study found that children who didn’t get enough sleep at 30 months of age (fewer than 10.5 hours a night) were 45% more likely to be obese at age 7 than 30-month-olds who slept for at least 12 hours a night.
  • In a study of about 6,800 German children between 5 and 6 years of age, those who slept for less than 10.5 hours a night were more likely to be obese.
  • A study of 383 adolescents aged 11-16 found that with each lost hour of sleep, kids have an 80% greater risk of obesity.
  • One study restricted healthy young men to only 4 hours of sleep a night. After six consecutive nights, their bodies used glucose less efficiently, had a worse tolerance for glucose and suffered an exaggerated insulin response

How Does Sleeping Less Cause Obesity?

  • Over time, impaired metabolism of glucose could cause diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity.
  • Sleeping too little makes the body produce less leptin, a hormone that lowers your appetite and increases the number of calories you burn during daily life.
  • At the same time, too little sleep makes your body produce more ghrelin, an appetite-increasing hormone.
  • Increased waking hours, especially paired with an increased appetite, give you extra time and desire to eat more food.

The report acknowledged that, unlike previous generations, modern children engage in more sedentary activities like TV and video games. Many times, people—grownups and children alike—tend to get in the habit of eating while engaging in sedentary activities. Although these could certainly be contributing factors, they’re not fully responsible for the increase in childhood obesity.

The body’s biological responses to sleep deprivation are the likely culprits. Studies in children, young adults and older adults have repeatedly shown that insufficient sleep is likely to cause obesity and, in turn, many other health problems.

In addition to having immediate negative consequences for health, childhood obesity can increase the long-term risk of problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, an increased risk of some cancers, sleep apnea and arthritis. Sleep deprivation as a child can increase the risk of poor health in both youth and adulthood.

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