Sleeping to Stay Slim?

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Are you and your family getting enough sleep? I've recently been reading a lot about a lack of sleep being linked to overweight in adults. But apparently this connection is even stronger in kids. Personally I am very territorial of my zz's, but sleep deprivation is a problem for all of us including our kids. Yikes!

A researcher out of the University of Bristol (Britain), Dr. Sharad Taheri, is addressing this issue head on in his recent paper The link between short sleep duration and obesity: we should recommend more sleep to prevent obesity published in this months Archives of Disease in Childhood. Dr. Taheri reviews some of the emerging evidence linking sleep deprivation to overweight in kids. He suggests a variety of mechanisms are taking place that may in part be to blame for rising obesity rates in kids. A couple of the primary reasons are a lack of sleep may disrupt our metabolism, and also result in less physical activity overall because our kids are just too tired to exert a lot of energy. As for the metabolism, sleep seems to affect appetite hormones like leptin and ghrelin. Leptin decreases our appetite while ghrelin increases it. Sleep studies have shown that a deprivation results in a decrease in leptin and increase in ghrelin, not a good combination if you're trying to control your calories.

Dr. Taheri puts partial blame on the extensive use of computers, mobile phones and TV watching. I certainly agree that we need to limit our kids' computer and TV time as that encourages sedentary behavior. But watching television in bed or before bed also seems to interfere with quality of sleep, so it's a double edged sword. Yikes again!

And teens get it the worst. As they get older they stay up later but then have to get up early to go to school. This is such an important time for development and sleep is crucial to that development; and apparently crucial to decrease their risk of being overweight.

Dr. Taheri offers some recommendations for parents that I think are pretty good and sound familiar to some of the recommendations I make. In his British words (they always sound so articulate, I couldn't bear to edit)

* Ensure a regular bedtime routine
* Ensure strict bed and wake times
* Ensure a quiet, dark and relaxing bedroom environment that is neither too hot nor too cold
* Ensure a comfortable bed that is used only for sleeping and not for other activities (eg, reading, watching television or listening to music)
* Undertake physical activity but not within a few hours of bedtime
* Remove televisions, computers and gadgets from the bedroom
* Avoid large meals near bedtime

Dr. Taheri gives some additional recommendations for teens (again in British eloquence):

* Avoid caffeinated drinks after lunchtime
* Avoid nicotine, alcohol and drugs
* Avoid activities that may be arousing around bedtime (eg, computer games, texting on mobile phone or arguing)
* Ensure exposure to bright light on awakening in the morning
* Allow sleeping in during weekends, but no more than 2–3 hours beyond the usual wake time (as this disrupts the circadian clock)
* Avoid staying up all night (eg, to study)

With all of this in mind send yourself and the kids to bed early tonight! Sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite. Sweet Dreams all :)
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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