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Parents Who Don’t Get Enough Sleep May Increase Their Children’s Risk for Obesity, Says Study

sweet dreams

A new study has found that parents who regularly don’t get enough sleep at night are more likely to have young children who, likewise, don’t sleep enough. Lost sleep in turn puts these youngsters (and the parents) at higher risk for being overweight or obese.

The study, done by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, assessed the weight of 337 preschool-age children and their parents, also examining factors known to help protect adults and children from becoming overweight or obese.

The protective factors assessed in parents included whether parents slept more than 7 hours a night, and if they had a family mealtime routine. Protective factors assessed in the youngsters included:

  • whether they slept 10 or more hours a night
  • whether they had a family mealtime routine
  • no TV in the bedroom
  • screen time limited to less than 2 hours a day

Researchers found that the length of time that children slept was related to how long parents slept; when parents lost sleep regularly, so did the children.

Analysis of the data found that getting enough sleep was the only protective factor that seemed to influence whether or not children became overweight or obese. Children who regularly were short on sleep were more likely to be overweight or obese than children who had 3 or more of the other protective factors in their daily routines.

Scientists have learned that not getting enough sleep throws our metabolisms into chaos: the body has more difficulty using its natural insulin to convert sugars into energy, which can make these sugars be stored as fat. Also, fat is deposited differently on our bodies compared to when we’ve had enough sleep; and at least for some people, being short on sleep boosts their appetite for junk-type foods, thus increasing the likelihood of putting on excess weight.

The study’s lead author urged parents to make getting a full night’s sleep a top priority for the family. Parents should always remember that young children and even teenagers need more sleep than adults. Small children should sleep 10 to 11 hours a night, while teens can need 9 hours. By comparison, most adults need 8 hours a night.

How do you know how much sleep you need?

This is easy to determine: simply keep track of when you fall asleep and don’t set an alarm. See what time it is when you wake up naturally the next day; however long you slept (assuming your sleep wasn’t disturbed by noise, too much light, etc.) is how much sleep you need.

To insure that your young children sleep enough hours, they must go to bed hours before you do. Health experts advise developing a calming nightly routine that stays pretty constant every night, for both your youngster, and then you. Reading or baths are two good ways to get your little ones to relax in preparation for bedtime.

The above study was published in a recent issue of Frontiers in Psychology.

By Lisa Pecos

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