How Sleep Relates to Childhood Nutrition, Energy Balance and Obesity Risk
Diet and physical activity are the “Big 2” factors that get the most blame for causing Obesity, but, does that focus obscure our view of other important factors that affect energy balance? Factors like lack of sleep and quality of sleep.
What if I told you that one way to help your kids to eat healthy would be to get them to bed on time!
Now, you might be saying, “That is easier said than done.” And you would be right!
“sleep is an important modulator of how our hormones work and it also has a part to play in how appetite is regulated and how the reward system is expressed”
But, lets leave that to another article. In this blog I want to talk about how sleep relates to childhood nutrition, energy balance and obesity risk. We know that eating healthy foods and facilitating play throughout the day are the corner stone of maintaining healthy energy balance and promoting healthy habits, but, it doesn’t tell the whole story. So, where does sleep fit in?
“we all know how sensitive and changeable a child’s appetite can be”
First of all, sleep is an important modulator of how our hormones work and it also has a part to play in how appetite is regulated and how the reward system is expressed. These systems can be especially important in children because, we all know how sensitive and changeable a child’s appetite can be, and any way of creating consistency in this area will be likely to have an effect on healthy eating and reducing risk of obesity overall.
“natural light in the morning turns on the brain’s day network and darkness turns on the body’s night-time network”
How Sleep is Regulated by the Body
This all relates to sleep and quality of sleep. And, Sleep is governed by the “Circadian rhythm”. In other words, your “body clock”. There main body clock is located in the brain, or more specifically the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). There are also peripheral clocks located in almost every cell throughout the body1. These clocks are entrained by light and dark signals in your child’s environment i.e. natural light in the morning turns on the brain’s day network and darkness turns on the body’s night-time network.
As our modern life and the life of our kid’s is further and further governed by artificial light in the form of electronic devices there are ample opportunities for sleep disruptions!
Hormonal Changes Related to Sleep
When we think about sleep disruptions and lack of sleep we don’t automatically think about eating and obesity however, we know that lack of sleep and sleep disruptions can up-regulate cortisol production in the body producing a stressed state which can lead to weight gain, especially in younger age groups2.
Lack of sleep can also modulate the hormones leptin and ghrelin which govern the hunger and fullness pathways. Some epidemiological studies have shown that this state can lead to a heightened pleasure response to highly palatable foods and an overall reduction in diet quality3. When relating this back to childhood nutrition we can see that these changes as a result of sleep could present as a preference for palatable foods and a lack of connection to a child’s own feelings of fullness and hunger.
Sleep Recommendations for Kids
So how much sleep do children need? In 2016 the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued guidelines for children’s sleep4;
|Infants 4 months to 12 months||12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health|
|Children 1 to 2 years||11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health|
|Children 3 to 5 years||10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health|
|Children 6 to 12 years of age||9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.|
|Teenagers 13 to 18 years||8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.|
In conclusion, there is a lot still to learn about sleep, and the way it affects energy balance, and quality of diet. One important caveat is that, the majority of research in this area has been done in non-human models. Despite this, there is a lot of interesting information that points to sleep having a significant hand in how the body processes signaling around hunger and satiety. This emerging information, could be applicable to how we care for our children’s health, encourage them to eat healthily and reduce their risk of obesity in later life. I for one will be keeping an eye out for new re-search!
If you want to learn more about how I can help your family eat more healthily, please get in touch at email@example.com.
- Dibner C, Schibler U, Albrecht U. The mammalian circadian timing system: organization and coordination of central and peripheral clocks. Annu Rev Physiol 2010;72:517-49.
- Markwald RR, Melanson EL, Smith MR, Higgins J, Perreault L, Eckel RH, et al. Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proc Natl 2016;315:1726-34.
- Dashti HS, Scheer FA, Jacques PF, Lamon-Fava S, Ordov.s JM. Short sleep duration and dietary intake:epidemiologic evidence, mechanisms, and health implications. Adv Nutr 2015;6:648-59.
- Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D’Ambrosio C, Hall WA, Kotagal S, Lloyd RM, Malow BA, Maski K, Nichols C, Quan SF, Rosen CL, Troester MM, Wise MS. Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: a consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. J Clin Sleep Med2016;12(6):785–786.