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Sleep Protects Against Childhood Obesity

Jun 10, 2014 12:05 PM EDT

According to a new University of Illinois study, sleep should be a priority in all family households for a reason other than not wanting to wake up groggy. As it turns out, new research suggests that a better night's sleep for both parents and their kids plays a role in protecting against childhood obesity.

"Parents should make being well rested a family value and a priority. Sleep routines in a family affect all the members of the household, not just children; we know that parents won't get a good night's sleep unless and until their preschool children are sleeping," researcher Barbara H. Fiese said in a university news release.

Being sleepy is the least of your worries after not getting in your eight hours - parents' and kids' weight is also likely to suffer.

Although the mechanism hasn't yet been identified, Fiese said that restorative sleep is thought to help regulate our metabolism.

Limiting television or screen-viewing time, spending quality family time during meals and making sure kids are in bed in time to get the recommended 10 hours or sleep are ways to protect against childhood obesity, and so researchers took into account these factors when studying 337 preschool children.

The only significant individual protective factor against obesity or overweight in children, they found, was getting adequate sleep, even after controlling for parents' BMI and socio-demographic characteristics.

As described in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, sleep is important for our health even as we get older. The number of hours a parent sleeps is related to how much sleep children are getting, so a parent's sleep has an effect on the likelihood that their children will be overweight or obese.

A lot of the time, parents who arrive home late from work are inclined to want to spend time with their youngsters - mostly in front of the television - sacrificing their kids' sleeptime for quality time.

"They described cuddling on the couch, watching television, and the child falling asleep in his parent's arms at 10 or 11 p.m. and being carried to bed. You can understand how it happens, but that's too late for a child who has to get up and go to school the next day," Fiese noted.

And this revelation doesn't just apply to preschoolers, but to kids in elementary school and high school as well - kids whose brains are still developing.

Fiese sees obesity intervention as a three-legged stool in which every member of the family is able to eat well, play well, and sleep well.

"Paying attention to those three pillars of health - good nutrition, enough exercise, and adequate sleep - benefits everyone in the family," she said.

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