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How Lack of Sleep Affects Your Child's Weight
A mother of a 13-year old boy approached me concerned that her son is slightly overweight, despite the fact that he exercises regularly and eats relatively well. She was concerned that his lack of energy could worsen his weight problem and lead to him becoming obese.
About the Child (Let's call him Peter)
Peter had a heavy build that he carried very well. He seemed confident within his own skin. He was hoping that I could give him some exercises to trim his mid-section and give him an energy boost. I took his BMI, and he scored a little on the overweight side. I kept in mind that his extra "weight" could also be accounted for by his larger bone structure and muscle mass.
My Initial Thoughts
Whenever a parent tells me their child is active and eats relatively well, I immediately question (in my mind) if their perspective of healthy eating and adequate exercise is the same as mine? In most cases, we are not on the same page.
After meeting with Peter and his mother for 30 minutes, I realized that Peter's case was unique. He played competitive ice hockey three to four days per week, along with school sports including soccer, basketball and volleyball. He was your typical "jock," who was always on the go. His daily nutrition seemed healthy, as he limited his simple sugars and saturated fats and ate lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats. It would have been easy for me to chalk up his weight situation to the genes passed down from his parents.
However, since both Peter and his mother mentioned a "lack of energy," I delved into his sleep patterns and discovered that he averaged five to six hours a night of broken sleep.
I discussed with them the pitfalls of too little sleep. In the short-term, lack of sleep can cause a loss of concentration, along with decreased energy and motivation. From a physiological perspective, hormone levels are disrupted, causing hunger and impairing the body's ability to process sugar. Peter's mother's intuition was correct as this can lead to diabetes and obesity.
In a study recently published in Pediatrics, kids who were sleep deprived during childhood are at a much higher risk for becoming obese as adults. The researchers compiled the estimated sleep times of 1,037 participants born in the early 1970s by interviewing their parents. They then compared that data to the Body Mass Index (BMI) levels of those participants now that they're adults. Shorter sleep times were associated with higher adult BMI levels, even after adjusting for other factors such as socioeconomic status and parental weight.
After discovering that Peter was sabotaging his health with a lack of sleep, we realized that he needed to change his sleep habits. I gave them a list of tips to implement into his daily routine:
- Re-set his internal "biological clock," also known as circadian rhythm. Sunlight sets the pace of the circadian rhythm and the brain governs it. In the evening, keep the room dark to signal the brain that it is time to sleep.
- Maintain regular bedtimes and wake times.
- Keep your family environment stress-free.
- Minimize exposure to your computer monitor, TV or bright bedroom or bathroom lights within a half hour of going to bed.
- Avoid watching TV in bed as this exposes you to bright light. Turn your reading light down to a setting that allows you to just barely read a book or a magazine.
Final Thoughts and Notes
For your kids (and us adults too), a healthy lifestyle includes eating well-balanced meals, exercising at a medium- to high-intensity on a daily basis, getting at least 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep, feeding your brain and having a positive attitude.
Reggie Reyes is a certified kinesiologist and personal trainer. He is the president and founder of pt4kids, a company that creates specialized training programs for kids all ages and fitness levels. Have a question about your child's health and fitness? Feel free to leave a comment below.