More Evidence That Ample Sleep Helps Regulate A Healthy Metabolism

More Evidence That Ample Sleep Helps Regulate A Healthy Metabolism

Parents might think twice about that old adage of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ when trying to convince children to get the crucial sleep they need to thrive.

In a new study published this month by researchers at the University of Illinois, sleep routines demonstrated by parents are as important to their children’s health as that rest itself. According to the study, a lack of sleep in children can lead to more than cranky behavior; too little sleep during childhood may also result in a spike in obesity. Researchers in that study directly linked parental patterns of sleep behavior to those of their offspring.

Punching the Sleep ‘Clock’

In the study, conducted by Barbara H. Fiese, Director of the University of Illinois Family Resiliency Center, and published in the April 2014 issue of Frontiers in Psychology, the data showed that pre-school children who lacked enough sleep night after night face a greater risk of becoming overweight than similar children who observed the following guidelines: obtained adequate sleep (at least ten hours) per night, followed a family routine at meal time, limited any screen viewing (television and/or computer and other electronic devices) to less than two hours each day, and had no television in their bedrooms.

After assessing the data of the more than 300 children in the study with regard to variances in socioeconomic characteristics, the only significant variable to protecting against obese or overweight children was getting enough rest.

According to Fiese, “Children who did not get enough sleep had a greater risk for being overweight than children who engaged in at least three of the protective routines regularly, even after controlling for parents’ body mass index and socio-demographic characteristics.”

A more unexpected finding was that a parent’s sleep behavior tends to set the standard for his or her child’s.

“We viewed how long parents slept and how long children slept as part of a household routine and found that they really did go together,” explained Fiese.

For example, many parents who tended to work late actually had their five- and seven-year olds going to bed as late as 11 pm because they wanted some one-on-one time with kids when they returned home from the office. Those parents described settling down with kids on the couch, often in front of the television, before the child fell asleep and was carried to bed. While parents might view this as a special cuddle time together, it’s far more important to get that child in bed earlier — early enough time to get 10 hours of uninterrupted downtime.

Setting an early sleep precedent is also important, noted Fiese, who offered that getting adequate sleep in American society is increasingly difficult. Bad habits learned as children are often repeated throughout life.

“Inadequate sleep is not just a problem for preschoolers, but for elementary school children and high school children whose brains are still developing. Adults don’t function well on inadequate sleep either,” she continued.

Why Am I So Hungry?

Past studies have also linked a lack of sleep to increased rates of obesity in adults, possibly due to changes in brain function as a result of sleep deprivation.

In a vicious cycle, a sleep-deprived brain responds strongest to high-fat foods and those responses induce greater cravings and the motivation to keep eating, even when full. Simultaneously, sleep-starved subjects’ brains face a sharp reduction in higher-level thinking in the frontal cortex. The result? Poor sleep equals poor decision making as well as more trips to the vending machine.

Several studies were even able to correlate a few days of consecutive sleep deprivation to immediate weight gain. One such study conducted at the University of Colorado in 2013 showed that just losing a few hours each night for several consecutive nights is enough to gain an average of two pounds.

Other studies have linked sleep deprivation to increased levels of the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol and those that stimulate appetite. The sleep deprived also suffer from increased rates of inflammation and reduced sensitivity to insulin, which raises the risk of disease, such as Type II diabetes.