Miriam Study: The Link Between Sleep and Childhood Obesity
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Pediatric obesity is considered an epidemic. Because studies with adult patients show a link between sleep, weight, and risk for disease, a new study at Miriam Hospital entitled “Sleep duration and pediatric overweight: the role of eating behaviors,” will examine whether the amount of sleep children get is associated with changes in hunger and food intake. If a connection is made, this finding can be incorporated into a new treatment for childhood obesity.
The link between sleep and obesity
“There is a lot of evidence that shows that children of parents who are poor sleep less and that these children have increased risk of being obese and overweight,” said Dr. Chantelle Hart. The leader of this study, Dr. Hart is an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and a clinical psychologist at the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at Miriam Hospital. The evidence that these variables are associated is high, but there has not been a study yet to see if not getting enough sleep could cause a child to become overweight.
Looking for clues in more, less sleep
Dr. Hart wanted to isolate the sleep factor to see if increasing it or decreasing it alone had an effect on the child’s weight. For the three-week study, 50 children ages 8-11 who sleep between 9-10 hours per night will be asked to change their sleep patterns. For one week they will behave normally, for another they will decrease sleep by 1.5 hours, for another they will increase sleep by 1.5 hours.
Next, the study will look at hormones, self-reported appetite, food intake, height and weight. “By manipulating the sleep that children get,” said Hart, “we can get a better sense to see if there are certain changes that could lead to obesity in kids.”
Sleep and obesity in adults
The link between sleep duration and weight has also not been focused on children yet. There are some experimental trials in adults that have show adults who sleep less or have interrupted sleep will have an increased appetite, said Hart, which could lead to weight gain.
Dr. Hart said that there are quite a few different hypotheses about this link. The one that has the most support from other adult-focused studies posits that when people sleep less it affects a hormone that makes them wake up hungrier and eat more throughout the day. Another is that if a person is sleep-deprived, they might be more lethargic and tired, and more likely to engage in less activity. The last, simpler one, said Hart is that “if you sleep more, there is just less opportunity to eat.”
Conclusions to come
The study is ongoing, so no conclusions can be made as of yet, she reported. But no matter what the results, said Hart, “regardless of the connection between sleep and obesity, there are so many reasons to get a good night sleep.” She explained it is crucial for children’s emotional health, making them less irritable. “They will have more attention during the day, their performance during school will increase, and sleep helps memory and development.” And if the study goes according to the hypothesis, the kids will also have healthier physiques.
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