Toddlers who sleep less eat more

Toddlers who sleep less eat more


Toddlers who sleep for less than 10 hours a day are likely to become fatter than those who sleep for at least 13 hours, a study has found. Research on more than 2,500 children aged 16 months found that those who got less sleep ate a tenth more calories than others who slept for longer. The study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that those who slept for less than 10 hours consumed on average 105kcal more daily than peers sleeping over 13 hours. Researchers said the extra calories in their early years put children at risk of obesity and related health problems later in life.


The study by University College London (UCL) examined 1300 sets of twins, monitoring their sleep aged 16 months, then tracking their diet for the next five months. It found those who slept for less than 10 hours consumed an average of 1,087 calories, while those with more sleep had an average 982 calories. Researchers said the reason for the difference was not clear, but suggested that regulation of appetite hormones may become disrupted by shorter sleeping patterns.


Obesity campaigners said tired infants and toddlers were likely to become irritable - and that their parents ended up giving them more to eat in order to soothe them. Previous research has linked lack of sleep with obesity but this is the first study to show a direct link between hours slept and calories consumed in children so young.


Dr Abi Fisher, from the UCL Health Behaviour Research Centre, said: “We know shorter sleep in early life increases the risk of obesity so we wanted to understand whether shorter sleeping children consume more calories. “Previous studies in adults and older children have shown 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.” She said more research was needed to establish why it was that children who slept less ate more, but said parents should be aware of the increased risk of obesity if children slept less.


The study clearly showed that the increased energy intake was the reason for the weight gain. The study involved 1,303 families in the UK participating in the Gemini birth cohort which looks at young twins and the genetic and environmental influences on early weight.


Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, suggested that tired children were likely to seek food to give them an energy boost. He said: “When adults don’t get enough sleep they snack more and feed themselves with comfort food. It’s slightly different with babies but they become irritable so parents give them more food to soothe them believing it’s an act of love.”


Previous studies on adults have suggested that lack of sleep creates a hormone imbalance, which increases the appetite. Even partial sleep deprivation was found to be a factor in body weight regulation, affecting insulin levels and other key hormones.


By Laura Donnelly,


The Telegraph, the 25th of March 2014.


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