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Published on August 01, 2013

Lack of Sleep Leads to Obesity in Kids

Clearing the kitchen of junk food and encouraging your teen to sign up for JV sports isn’t the only way you can help your teen reduce his risk of obesity. You can also help by making sure he gets plenty of sleep at night. As it turns out, letting your teen sleep in a little longer may help prevent unhealthy weight gain.

A recent study found a connection between short sleep duration and higher rates of BMI (body mass index) among adolescents—even when factors such as physical activity and screen time were accounted for. After observing a thousand students over the course of their high school career (from age 14 to 18), researchers found that sleeping for 10 hours a day versus eight hours made a big difference in BMI. Those extra two hours of shuteye could reduce the number of teens with a high BMI (25 or above) by three percent when they were 14. By age 18, extra sleep reduced the number of teens with a high BMI by six percent.

But why does sleep impact weight gain in the first place?

Although doctors don’t yet have an exact answer, there are a few theories.

One theory suggests that sleep deprivation simply causes drowsiness, which would then discourage someone from engaging in physical activity. Another theory is that those who sleep less consume more calories during the day, since they’re awake longer and therefore have more opportunities to eat. Lack of sleep has also been found to interrupt the hormones that control appetite, so those who don’t get enough sleep may be hungrier than those who do.

For teens, adequate sleep doesn’t only help them maintain a healthy weight—it greatly impacts their health as well. A teen who gets plenty of sleep at night is more likely to be a better learner, listener, and problem solver. It also improves their concentration, immune system, skin problems, and their ability to manage stress.

Although teens should be getting about nine-and-a-half hours of sleep at night, most are nowhere near that goal; one report found that only 15 percent of teens were getting eight-and-a-half hours of sleep on school nights.

As a parent, it’s important to share these helpful tips with your kids to make sure they’re getting plenty of sleep each night: 

  • Create a restful sleep environment: Keep the room dark, cool, and quiet—all of which can help teens fall asleep faster and sleep soundly throughout the night.
  • Avoid Caffeine: Stay away from chocolate and caffeinated beverages, such as soda or energy drinks, late in the day since these can prevent you from falling asleep when you should.
  • Create a bedtime routine: Teens should also engage in quiet and calming activities before bed, such as reading a book or taking a warm shower, which can help signal to the body that it’s time to wind down. This also means no electronics before bed!
  • Write your thoughts: If your teen has racing thoughts that make it difficult to fall asleep, encourage him to try writing it all down so he can clear his mind before bed.
  • Schedule naps:  It might be difficult for your teen to get the adequate amount of sleep he needs due to the fact that many schools start early. Encourage her to take 20-minute naps after school to rejuvenate physically and mentally.

For more information, visit Crozer-Keystone’s website at http://sleep.crozerkeystone.org. Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of adult and pediatric sleep disorders. To make an appointment, visit our website or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703). 

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