Family Matters

You Snooze, You Lose: More Weekend Sleep Cuts Kids’ Obesity Risk

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Kids sleeping late on the weekends? Let ‘em — they’re not being lazy; they’re cutting their risk of obesity, according to new research published online today in the journal Pediatrics.

Ideally, parents should strive for a constant bedtime and wake time. But since that’s not always realistic, it’s good to know that children who catch up on sleep during weekends and vacations are better able to counteract the adverse effects of insufficient sleep during the week and reduce their risk of obesity. (More on Study: Most Babies Sleep Through the Night (But Not Mine))

Researchers at the University of Chicago analyzed the sleep patterns and BMI of 308 children between the ages of 4 to 10, dividing them into nine groups and using wrist actigraphs for one week to determine when they were asleep. The group of children with normal sleep patterns had the lowest risk of obesity and metabolic complications.

On average, the children slept an average of eight hours each night, less than what they should be getting. Kids ages 5 to 8 should sleep 9 to 10 hours, but children — like adults in our society — are largely sleep-deprived. (More on Why You Shouldn’t Snuggle with Your Pooch in Bed)

“We tend to disrespect sleep,” says David Gozal, the lead author and chair of the pediatrics department at the University of Chicago. “We’re not aware there’s a very substantial price to pay for shortening the duration of sleep and for creating very irregular sleep schedules. Together, these create a much higher risk of obesity.”

The worst combination? Irregular sleep and not enough of it. Those kids with the shortest, most irregular sleep had a 4.2-fold increased risk of obesity. When this group got more sleep on the weekends, their risk decreased to 2.8 fold — better but still nowhere near as good as the normal sleepers.

The obese kids in the study slept less time and more irregularly on weekends and were less likely to compensate on the weekends for not getting enough sleep on weekdays, which added up to metabolic problems. Short, irregular sleep increased the risk of inflammation, glucose sensitivity and resulted in a rise in lipids. (More on Some Scientific Evidence For Beauty Sleep)

“The point is regularity,” says Gozal. “If you are a regular catch-up sleeper on the weekends, that can have a beneficial effect if you are a short sleeper during the week. But if you have irregular, short/long sleep during the week and you continue that during the weekend, that puts you at worse risk.”

There’s plenty of buzz about childhood obesity but not much chatter about the importance of sleep, says Gozal. Educating families about the significance of sleep through public health campaigns that emphasize the link could breed healthier kids.

“The best thing to globally reduce the risk for obesity is to sleep long during the week and during the weekend and have regular sleep,” says Gozal.