Toddlers who get less sleep have bigger appetites

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A new study has discovered that toddlers who do not get more than 10 hours sleep each day are at risk of becoming fatter than toddlers who sleep for a minimum period of 13 hours a day.

Research was carried out on around 2,500 children at the age of 16 months and it was found that the ones who got more sleep ate at least a tenth less than the ones who slept for shorter periods. The toddlers who slept for periods below 10 hours consumed an average of 105kcal more than others who slept more than 13 hours.

Researchers have warned that the extra calories consumed during the early years of their lives put these children at high risk of developing obesity and all the related health problems when they grow older.

The study was undertaken by University College London, in which they monitored the sleeping patterns of 1300 sets of twins aged 16 months. They tracked their diets for a period of five months. The study found that the toddlers who slept for a period below 10 hours consumed around 1,087 calories, whilst those who slept for longer periods consumed an average of 982 calories.

The researchers are unclear about the reasons for this discrepancy, but they are of the suggestion that appetite regulation hormones become disrupted if the person has shorter sleeping patterns.

According to obesity campaigners, tired toddlers and infants often become irritable and this prompts the parents to give them something to eat to pacify them.

Research has previously been undertaken, but this is the first of its kind to show a direct link between the number of hours slept and the calories consumed in such young children. The UCL Health Behaviour Research Centre’s Dr Abi Fisher stated that they were aware of the link between the risk of obesity and shorter sleep patterns in early life, but they wanted to determine if shorter sleeping children consumed a greater number of calories.

He stated that previous research has shown that older children and adults with shorter sleeping patterns consumed more calories. However, during a child’s early life its parents are responsible for their eating pattern, hence the assumption was made that such young children would not indicate the same pattern.

She said that it would be necessary for more research to be done to establish this pattern. She further stated that parents should be aware of this risk of obesity.

Image credit: Lars Plougmann

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