A study recently conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK identified a link between lack of sleep in a child and obesity. According to the study, children and adolescents who regularly sleep for lesser hours compared to others of the same age, tend to gain more weight when they grow older and are more likely to become overweight or obese.
Turns out, more and more children in India are becoming obese, thanks to lack of sleep. In fact, inadequate sleep has resulted in obesity even in preteens and younger age groups and not just the adolescent age group, according to pediatrician Dr Charu Kalra. “This obesity is typically truncal, which means they would not be obese overall but around the abdominal area. And this is very common with kids who haven’t slept well for a major part of their childhood years,” she informed.
How does lack of sleep lead to obesity?
Dr Kalra pointed out three ways in which lack of sleep can affect infants and young children, leading to obesity.
1. Due to lack of sleep, children tend to be cranky and lethargic all day, leading to lack of physical activity, eventually causing obesity.
2. Inadequate sleep also affects a child’s cognitive development. One who hasn’t slept enough would not be that alert mentally. The child’s cognitive behaviour, including their satiety centres will slow down, making them eat more.
3. Every infant should have a specific amount of REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep, which involves rapid eye movements, more dreaming and bodily movement, and faster pulse and breathing, along with non-REM sleep. An infant, who doesn’t get enough of both, tends to be cranky, again making them have more milk, whether through breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, to soothe themselves. This leads to obesity, even in infancy.
Why aren’t children sleeping enough?
According to Dr Kalra, inadequate sleep is a direct result of bad sleep hygiene, which refers to the habits that help one have a good night’s sleep. And the first thing to do to improve sleep hygiene is to remove electronic gadgets from your child’s bedroom. “The main reason behind inadequate sleep is that most of us don’t maintain a sleep hygiene. This means that there are television sets and other electronic devices in the child’s bedroom. Baby cots have music pieces fitted in them while lullabies are played on mobile. That affects a child’s quality of sleep,” Dr Kalra explained.
Secondly, people don’t follow a specific schedule for sleeping. “With parents working for longer hours themselves, it becomes difficult for them to put their child to sleep earlier. This, in turn, is affecting their child’s cognitive behaviour,” added Dr Kalra.
Lack of physical activity also leads to lack of sleep. With increasing academic pressure that children grapple with along with other extra-curricular activities that they are put into from a very young age, they are hardly left with any time to play. Greater physical activity will induce better sleep, suggested Dr Kalra said.
How long should your child sleep?
Obesity poses a lot of health risks, from cardiovascular diseases to diabetes. And if lack of sleep in children is one of the primary reasons behind obesity, it is important to ensure your child sleeps well and as much as required. The duration of sleep required varies with age. Dr Kalra suggested, “A newborn, for instance, can sleep up to a total of 20 hours a day. Then, an infant should ideally be sleeping for a total of 15-16 hours a day, of which three to four hours of sound sleep would be good. By the age of one, a child should have at least 10-12 hours of effective sleep. After two years of age, at least one to one-and-a-half hours of sleep in the afternoon and a eight to ten hours of sleep at night is recommended. And since most children have to wake up early for school, it is better to put them to sleep by late evening since that’s when they get the best amount of REM and non-REM sleep.”