JAMA Logo Sleep is absolutely essential for healthy living. Falling asleep and waking up are apparently controlled by various chemical changes in the brain and in the blood. Experts reveal that inadequate amounts of nighttime sleep among infants and preschool-aged children may be a crucial risk factor for developing childhood obesity. They also identified that napping does not appear to be a satisfactory substitute for nighttime sleep in terms of obesity.

Scientists evaluated existing national, longitudinal and panel survey data collected for children and adolescents and examined 1,930 children who were aged between 0 to 13 years, with data collected on the same children in 1997 and again in 2002. Experts classified the children into a younger group (age 0 to 59 months) and an older group (age 60 to 154 months).

“Obesity—defined as having age- and sex-specific body mass index at or above the 95th percentile of national growth standards—has doubled among children aged 2 to 5 years and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years and has tripled among those aged 6 to 11 years”, authors remarked. “Evidence is accumulating from cross-sectional population studies to support a robust contemporaneous relationship between shortened sleep duration and unhealthy weight status in children and adolescents.”

Scientists observed that at follow-up around 33 percent of the younger cohort and 36 percent of the older group were overweight or obese. They share that these findings may highlight there is a vital window prior to age 5 years when nighttime sleep may be significant for consequent obesity status.

“For the younger children, short duration of nighttime sleep at baseline was associated with an increased risk of subsequent overweight or obesity. In the older age group, baseline sleep was not associated with subsequent weight status, however contemporaneous sleep was associated with increased odds of a shift from normal weight to overweight or from overweight to obesity at follow-up. Additionally, in the older group, nighttime sleep at follow-up was associated with marginally increased odds of obesity at follow-up while sleep duration five years prior had no meaningful effect”, authors commented.

Authors conclude by sharing that sleep duration is an adjustable risk factor with essential implications for obesity prevention and treatment. However, inadequate nighttime sleep among infants and preschool-aged children seems to be a lasting risk factor for consequent obesity. On the contrary, contemporaneous sleep is apparently important to weight status among adolescents.

These findings will be published in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.