The study - conducted in two waves of data collection approximately five years apart - is the first nationally representative, longitudinal investigation of the relationship between sleep, Body Mass Index (BMI) and overweight status in children aged 3 to 18.
"Our study suggests that earlier bedtimes, later wake times and later school start times could be an important and relatively low-cost strategy to help reduce childhood weight problems," says Emily Snell, , a Northwestern doctoral student in human development and social policy.
"We found even an hour of sleep makes a big difference in weight status," said Snell. "Sleeping an additional hour reduced young children's chance of being overweight from 36 percent to 30 percent, while it reduced older children's risk from 34 percent to 30 percent."
The researcher´s findings suggest that later bedtimes play a greater role in the overweight status of children aged from 3 to 8, while earlier wake times play a greater role in children aged 8 to 13. No significant differences in the effect of sleep on weight was found between boys and girls nor was there evidence that children who slept more grew more in height.
By age 7, children were sleeping on average less than 10 hours on weekdays. By age 14, weekday sleep time fell to 8.5 hours. A full 16 percent of adolescents aged 13 to 18 were found to sleep fewer than seven hours on weekday nights. The National Sleep Foundation recommends children aged 5 to 12 years get 10 to 11 hours of sleep and adolescents get eight to nine hours.
"Many American children are simply not getting the sleep they need. Parents, policymakers and health care providers all are concerned about the obesity epidemic among children," says Snell. "Our results suggest that something as simple as helping children sleep more at night could reduce their risk of being overweight."
MEDICA.de; Source: Northwestern University