Catching up on Z's could curb kids' weight
January 24th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Catching up on Z's could curb kids' weight

Recent studies have shown that not getting enough sleep can affect your waistline. Less shuteye means more pounds. This also applies to children, which is tough for some. School, extracurricular activities and busy schedules can keep a child up at night. But research published in the journal Pediatrics finds that when youngsters are given the opportunity to make up for lost sleep by staying in bed longer on weekends and holidays, that extra time cuts down the negative effects of irregular sleep during the week. And that's especially true when it comes to weight gain.

Doctors from the University of Chicago wanted to determine how much sleep healthy kids really get. In order to obtain an accurate measure, researchers used an actigraph (a specialized motion logger) rather than relying on parents, who, they say, usually overestimate by 60-90 minutes the amount of sleep their children get. Investigators also wanted to determine whether sleep duration was associated with increased risk for obesity as well as future risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In the study, researchers monitored the sleep patterns of 308 children between the ages of 4 and 10 and and recorded their Body Mass Indexes or BMIs. They found that children who had regular sleep schedules and slept the recommended number of hours per night had the least risk of being obese or having unhealthy blood markers. In contrast, children who slept the least  and had irregular sleep schedules had more than a fourfold increase in the risk of being obese and having unhealthy blood markers that indicate the beginning of other conditions.

But investigators also found that sleep-deprived kids who catch up during the weekend reduce that risk from four times to slightly less than three times the obesity risk of kids who get adequate sleep

"Lack of sufficient sleep can have major adverse consequences to the body, such as reduced memory and cognitive performance, lack of attention and focus and in children hyperactivity and ADHD like behaviors." says Dr. David Gozal, physician-in-chief, for the Department of Pediatrics at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago. "In addition helplessness and depression can develop," he adds.

Reserach shows that lack of sleep can also lead to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, even cancer.

Gozal concludes, "If you want the best for your child, consistent bedtimes and sleeping the right amount is the best healthy choice."

What are some ways to catch up on your sleep? Gozal recommends you allow yourself to sleep without an alarm clock and stay in bed and sleep as long as you will be able to. Catching up for lost sleep, according the reasearchers, will take longer than people think. For example, if you lose two hours of sleep every night during the weekdays (say sleep 6 hours rather than the 8 hours you would need) then you will accumulate a "sleep debt" of 10 hours. If you now sleep 10 hours each day of the weekend (i.e., two  hours more than what you need), you will have repaid back only four of the 10 hours debt you owe.

But he warns sleeping in during weekends and holidays works only partially and does not fully get rid of the risk associated with reduced sleep and irregular sleep schedules, especially in adults.

"So people shouldn't approach it as the easy way out. That said," says Gozal, " Iit is better than doing nothing."

soundoff (82 Responses)
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.