A question that has become more prevalent in recent years due to the rising number of children, predominantly in western countries, who are classed as obese; is poor sleep making our children fat?
Sadly, this is not an issue that is going away anytime soon, but there are ways that adults, parents, and people in a place of responsibility can look to turn the tide for the better. It’s irresponsible to lay the blame purely at the door of poor sleeping habits, but it might surprise you to know that it does play a large role.
The good news with this is that it is a cheap and very effective way for parents to make a change to help their children live a healthier life. To do this, we are going to look at why sleep is so important to our children and also how you can implement these changes.
Lack of Sleep Hinders the Heart
Sleep does some wonderful things and protecting children from vascular damage is one of them. Children who struggle with deficient levels of sleep can endure excessive brain arousal while sleeping, which can set off the fight-or-flight response, not just a few times, but hundreds of times every night!
The blood glucose and cortisol levels in children’s bodies stay a heightened night, and both of these are associated with higher levels of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease too!
Lack of Sleep and Weight Issues
So, the answer to the main point of the article lies here. Growing examples of studies that point to getting too little sleep results in children becoming overweight, which begins as early as the stages of infancy.
When children are in their infancy, it’s essential that parents are able to differentiate between hunger and other distress cues, as this means they have the knowledge required to be able to then learn to soothe without resorting to feeding.
Swaddling and swinging techniques are known to be a successful pair of techniques to help babies become more sound sleepers, and less prone to being overweight.
In fact, there’s no better time to start than pretty much as soon as they are born (or as close to it as you can). At roughly two weeks old, when you adopt these types of techniques it means you don’t have to reach for the bottle (theirs, not yours!) and this will assist in keeping their feeds in check.
It’s these kinds of early foundations that can aid children to be leaner in that initial 12 months. This is crucial, simply because of the tie between weight and sleep snowballs with age.
Our body’s fat cells release the hormone leptin when we’ve eaten a satisfactory amount of food. This sends signals to the brain that say to stop eating. Now, if children start to lose sleep in their lives, they are at higher risk of being obese.
Tired children don’t eat in the same way that kids who’ve had decent sleep do. Just like us adults, when children are tired, their cravings for carb-rich, higher-fat foods spikes. And when they’re tired, they’re less interested in being active, so burn fewer calories, causing a vicious cycle to ensue.
Lack of Sleep Hampers the Fight against Germs
As our little angels are sleeping, proteins called cytokines, which the body relies on to fight infection, illness, and stress are released. Not only this; they make us feel sleepy as well.
When children and adults don’t get enough sleep, a cytokine is not available readily enough to do the job it is in the body for. This means that illnesses are far more prevalent in both kids and grownups who have been falling short of recommended sleep levels.
This is another example of why sleep is so important because there is the knock-on effect of having an ill person in the house and others tend to suffer consequences. So, how can we look to change this around for the better?
Here are just two very simple, yet effective examples that you can refer to when you’re looking to keep your child’s weight under control in the future.
Set a Routine in Place
Habit is essential, and humans of all ages love it, so use this and take advantage of it. Funnily enough, it is one element that parents can regularly overlook when assessing their child’s weight.
Daily routines, even small things, help to trigger the brain into thinking there is regularity and it becomes easier to get some sleep. In fact, “TheSleepAdvisor” often raise the point that children’s beds need to be a place that they find comfy and tranquil, so just bear this in mind when you are setting a routine in place. The sooner this is instilled in children the better.
Good examples of a routine can include:
- Getting the lights down low and into an ambient setting well before they head off to bed
- Making sure that artificial light from smart devices are off limits
- Let them have a warm bath or shower
Making the right environment
Leading on from the routine, some other good pointers for sound sleep are to keep the temperature constant in their bedrooms and not go letting excess light spill through. You can use a fan, dehumidifier, swap duvets depending on the season and install blackout blinds to achieve this.
Updated: 23 April 2019