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Children Study Reveals Shorter Sleepers May Eat More

Last updated July 22, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

What happens when you don't sleep? And why do we need to do it anyways? Hank Green from Vlog Brothers explains the science of sleep: the cause, the benefits, and who holds the record for going without it!

A new study from the University College of London shows that young children, who sleep less tend to eat more. This is a growing concern, because overeating can lead to obesity and other related health problems later in life.

Published in the International Journal of Obesity, the researchers monitored the sleep of children at 16 months and the diet of the same children at 21 months old within 1303 United Kingdom families in the Gemini birth cohort.

They found that 16 month-old children who slept for less than 10 hours each day consumed on average 105kcal more per day than children who slept for more than 13 hours. This is an increase of approximately 10 percent from 982kcal to 1087kcal.

Previous studies have shown the associations between eating, weight, and sleep in older children and adults, but this is the first study to assess the direct link of sleep and caloric intake in children under the age of three years. This suggests that sleep is important when observing energy intake. The causes are still unclear.

Previous studies on adults have suggested that lack of sleep creates a hormone imbalance, which increases the appetite. Even partial sleep deprivation can affect insulin levels and other key hormones, which disrupts body weight regulation.

"We know that shorter sleep in early life increases the risk of obesity, so we wanted to understand whether shorter sleeping children consume more calories," explains Dr. Abi Fisher of the Health Behavior Research Center at University College of London. "Previous studies in adults and older children have shown that sleep loss causes people to eat more, but in early life parents make most of the decisions about when and how much their children eat, so young children cannot be assumed to show the same patterns.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation in the United States, it is recommended that newborns and toddlers get 10.5 to 18 hours and 12 to 14 hours sleep every day.

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Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 30, 2014
Last updated: July 22, 2015