It starts innocently enough: your kids beg you to stay up "just a little later" to watch a favorite show or spend time on the computer and, before long, your son or daughter is dozing off in class, complaining that they're not getting enough sleep.
A recent study shows that grades aren't the only things that can suffer when children don't get enough sleep.
Scientists at the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville compared the sleep patterns of 308 children, ages 4 to 10, with their body mass index. The children wore special wrist-band devices for a week to track the amount they slept.
According to the study, some subjects had blood work done to check glucose, insulin, triglycerides and cholesterol levels, which are markers for the risk of type 2 diabetes and future cardiovascular disease.
The following was also found:
Raphael Perez is an RPSGT (Registered Polysomnographic Technologist) or "sleep tech" at Marietta Memorial Hospital's sleep lab. He tends to see young people after the fact, when the effects of obesity have made sleep more difficult, and agrees that there is not only a correlation between sleep and obesity but that it becomes a cyclical problem.
A full night's sleep
Sleep needs vary, but here are the amounts typically needed nightly by people in different age groups:
Newborns (0 to 2 months): 16 to 18 hours
Infants (3 to 11 months): 14 to 15 hours
Toddlers (1 to 3 years): 12 to 14 hours
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 11 to 13 hours
School-age children (5 to 10 years): 10 to 11 hours
Teens (10 to 17 years): 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours
Adults (18 and up): 7 to 9 hours
Source: National Sleep Foundation
child to sleep
Even if you need to rearrange your schedule, it's important to make bedtime a priority. A predictable, calming bedtime routine is often the key to a good night's sleep.
If your child can hear talking, laughing, or sounds from the computer or TV, it's easy to see how he or she would feel left out. To ease the transition to bedtime, keep things quiet during the last hour before bedtime. Put away noisy games and toys. Turn off the TV, computer and video games. Dim the lights. Limit the entire family to quiet activities, such as reading books or doing puzzles. Sleep may be more appealing if everyone slows down before bedtime.
To encourage your child to fall asleep alone, help him or her feel secure. Start with a calming bedtime routine. Then make sure your child has a favorite comfort object, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, for company. If your child is afraid of the dark, turn on a night light or leave the bedroom door open.
Don't let bedtime become a power struggle. When your child's bedtime routine is complete and he or she is comfortable, remind your child that there's no reason to get out of bed. If your child gets up, promptly return him or her to bed - repeatedly, if necessary. You may have to shut the door or put up a gate or barrier.
If your child isn't tired at bedtime, you may be fighting a losing battle. Try scaling back daytime naps or rousing your child earlier in the morning. You can also put your child to bed a few minutes earlier every night until you're back to the original bedtime. Whatever time you put your child to bed, remember to stick to a calming bedtime routine. Taking time to wind down might help your child fall asleep.
If your child wakes up during the night, give him or her a few minutes to settle down. If time alone doesn't do the trick, go to your child's room and offer calm reassurance. Then tell your child that it's time to sleep and leave the room. Wait longer each night to go to your child's side, until eventually your child falls back to sleep without your help.
"The body produces chemicals that regulate appetite leptin causes appetite suppression and ghrelin causes increased appetite. When you don't get enough sleep, ghrelin production increases," Perez explained.
"We usually tend to see parents who say their child is lethargic and, many times, the child is suffering from sleep apnea."
Sleep apnea is a dangerous sleeping disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing, which could last as long as several minutes, often leading to serious health problems.
The youngest patient that Perez has seen at the sleep lab is around age 12.
While this latest study shows that there are links between the amount of sleep that a child receives and his or her tendency toward obesity, Jessica Powell, 26, of Beverly, takes such things with a grain of salt.
"I just think that every child is different," said the mother of four children, ranging from 9 months to 7 years of age, who is also a childcare teacher at the Betsey's Learning Tree in Marietta.
"My boys go to sleep at 8:30 every night and are up by 6:30 in the morning but my (7-year-old) girl likes to stay up," she said. "When she was in kindergarten, it was a fight every day to get her up. But now it's better."
Wanting to stay up later to spend time with parents, needing to stay up later to finish school work or other distractions are just a few of the reasons kids might not be getting enough sleep.
Powell said that sometimes she will catch her daughter playing her Nintendo DS video game and she will have to take it away before the girl will go to sleep.
Perez admits even he has had problems in the past with his teenager texting friends in the middle of the night.
"I woke up one night and walked past my daughter's room and saw that she was texting. I had to take the phone away," he said.
Among the children in the study who got the recommended amount of sleep, the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems was nil, according to lead researcher Dr. David Gozal, chair of pediatrics at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago.
"But, as the amount of sleep became shorter and the regularity of sleep became less organized, the risk for obesity increased," he said.
"Kids who had the shortest sleep and had a more disorganized sleep schedule had more than a fourfold increase in the risk of being obese," he noted.
These children also had increased risk for cardiovascular problems and pre-diabetes, Gozal said.
However, if these children consistently slept longer on weekends to compensate, the risk for obesity and metabolic problems was reduced to a 2.8-fold increase. "It did not normalize it. It's still a risk but not as much as keeping your crazy short sleep schedule even during weekends," Gozal said.
"As difficult as it is for parents to consistently enforce early bedtimes, it may still be one of the easiest ways to promote happy, healthy children."