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Adequate sleep key to weight management

Kids need sleep. We all know that. But as the father of four, I remember how difficult it was to get them into bed. Penny and I would read them bedtime stories, give them that extra glass of water and sometimes go into negotiation mode – yes, it’s time to turn the lights off and say beddy-by.

But now, in this age of electronic distraction, it’s even more complicated. Screens all over the place make agreeing to shut off the lights similar to a summit meeting between world leaders.

Ben Franklin’s edict “Early to bed, early to rise makes one healthy wealthy and wise” isn’t just for the Puritans. It works for all of us, especially given what new research has suggested: Kids who don’t sleep much are more likely to be obese.

That’s right, sleep might be just as important as exercise when it comes to children maintaining the right weight, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics.

Investigators took a typical cross-section of American children ages 8 to 11. Two out of three were normal weight, with the other one third weighing too much. They put them through a three-week investigation.

In week one, they measured how much the kids ate and how much they slept. In week two, the kids increased their sleep by 1½ hours for the week, and again researchers measured how much they ate.

In week three, the kids’ normal sleep was decreased by 1½ hours. How much they ate was measured once again.

Guess what? When the children slept less, they gained weight – and ate 135 more calories. When they slept more, they ate less.

Now, 135 calories might not seem like much, but day in and day out it will add pounds to your waistline. Studies show it’s the little things we do day after day that put on the pounds.

What’s going on? The theory is that two internal hormones, leptin and ghrelin, help to regulate weight and appetite. When researchers took blood tests on these kids, they found these internal “fatness” hormones increased when kids slept less.

This is not the first study to show the role that sleep plays in obesity. Other studies in adults have shown that insulin resistance, another key player in weight control, also is disregulated by lack of sleep.

Clearly there are other players here. Calorie-laden drinks, such as soda and apple juice, and junky eating, like chips and fast food, are still the primary players. And getting kids out to play football rather than watch it on TV is still an important thing. But this study shows that sleep is an underappreciated player in our lives.

My spin: If you burn the candle at both ends and brag about how little sleep you get, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Let’s change our attitudes and be proud of eight or nine hours of shut-eye. Boast about that nap in the middle of the day.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7; email questions to him at