Can More Sleep Help Kids Eat Less?

It makes perfect sense that kids who sleep well perform better, whether in the classroom, on the ball field, or simply throughout the day. There’s evidence it can even help them eat less and weigh less. In a 3-week study published in Pediatrics, researchers looked at how changing the amount of sleep 37 8- to 11-year-old kids got affected their reported food intake and body weight. During week 1, children slept their usual amount at home. Then they were randomized to either increase or decrease their time in bed by 1.5 hours each night for 1 week. Then they did the opposite over the third and final week of the study. Researchers found that when kids increased their sleep time, on average they decreased their daily calorie intake by 134 calories. Their weight was also 0.22 kg (almost half a pound) lower during the increase sleep than the decrease sleep condition.

According to Chantelle Hart, PhD, the lead author of the Pediatrics study, “We know that a good nights’ sleep is associated with a number of benefits for children across domains of functioning, including memory and learning, mood and behavioral disturbances.” Hart also says the study findings suggest that a good night’s sleep may confer other benefits to children in terms of eating and weight regulation.

Hart, an associate professor of public health at the Center for Obesity Research & Education at Temple University, suggests that parents help their kids keep a similar sleep schedule throughout the week and on weekends, and to have a consistent bedtime routine each night. She adds, “Limiting screen time and caffeine prior to bed are also recommendations we provide to families.”

Although the role sleep plays in food intake and body weight has yet to be deciphered, any parent knows how vital it is for kids—and for them—to get adequate sleep. Here are some suggestions for parents to help kids get the sleep they need, when they need it, from David Katz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Childhood Obesity journal, author of Disease Proof and father of five:

1. Be the parent. What if your kid REALLY wanted to try cocaine, or play in traffic? As parents, it’s our job to make and enforce rules that protect our kids. The only reason we find it hard to do this with regard to sleep, food, or exercise, is because we are ambivalent. If these are priorities for us, and we consistently treat them as such, our kids no more need to argue with us, let alone win, than they would about drugs, or skipping school, or…whatever.

2. Be reasonable. Younger kids need rules and guidance; older kids need options so they feel they are getting the respect they deserve and autonomy they need. Our teens always stayed up very late and slept in on weekends; we let them choose the pattern that suited them best—with a different pattern on school nights. Make and enforce the rules you need and avoid rules you don’t need so that your kids know (A) the rules are reasonable, and (B) when there is a rule, it IS a rule, and has to be treated as such.

3. Allow for experimentation. I had a poster in my dorm room in college: good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment! There is no substitute for experiential learning. Our job as parents is to protect our kids from bad judgment with irrevocable consequences—but allow for dabbling in using bad judgment vital to learning. So, we would let our kids have an occasional night to stay up as late as they wanted—and get way too little sleep—and see how they felt the next day. The experience of feeling exhausted and cranky said more about the importance of sleep than we could. That becomes a ‘see, I told you!’ kind of teachable moment, and makes the case better than words can.

4. Leave room for negotiation. As kids grow, there will be a lot of negotiation—and that’s OK. We parents have to decide where to give more ground, and where to give less. Any set of rules is easier to enforce if your kids know your rules aren’t arbitrary, and that you are prepared to negotiate in good faith, taking their priorities into account. Whenever my kids have disliked a rule of mine, I have found it very helpful to be able to say: we both know I listen to you, and often give in. When I don’t give in, it’s because I think it’s really important. If that give-and-take is combined with ‘being the parent,’ it’s a pretty tough formula for a kid to renounce.

For more expert tips to help your kids get more—and better—sleep, check out my previous Parents.com post.

How do you help your kids get the sleep they need?

Image of girl studying at the desk being tired via shutterstock.

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    On November 23, 2013 at 1:53 pm

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