Does losing sleep make kids watch more TV? Does it make them overweight? A new study reported in Pediatric Obesity untangles the complex links between sleep, waking hours, inactivity, and obesity. And they aren’t quite as cut and dry as you might imagine.
In the study, led by Chantelle N. Hart, an associate professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a researcher at Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education, 37 children ages 8 to 11 years old were followed over three weeks. In the first week, each child slept their usual amount; then for each of the following two weeks they were randomly assigned to either increase or decrease their sleep by one and a half hours per night (if in week two they slept more, in week three they slept less, and vice versa). They all wore devices on their wrists to estimate sleep and activity, and were asked to report their daily activities to researchers.
The researchers found that when kids slept less, they watched more TV (about an hour more, on average) and were generally less physically active compared to when they slept longer. But given that children were awake longer when they slept less, the total amount of activity they accrued was higher than it was when they got more sleep. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that short sleep may lead to children being more sedentary during the day—an important factor related to weight gain.
Hart says larger studies and more follow-up are needed, but this research sheds more light on the complex link between sleep and obesity. “Given that TV viewing has been associated with increased food intake in prior studies, the present study presents a potential novel pathway through which changes in sleep may lead to changes in food intake and weight gain, via sedentary activities such as TV viewing,” says Hart. When it comes to reducing the risk of childhood obesity, it seems, a little more sleep might go a long way.