Low-Quality Sleep As Obesity Villain


In the United Kingdom, a small study recently showed that seven hours is really the minimum amount of sleep that a child can get by on, without incurring some health deficits. Insufficient sleep appears to create risk for not only obesity but cardio-metabolic instability, which could lead to diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

A recent seven-day study of sleep and dietary patterns from King’s College, London (with senior author Wendy Hall), used individual tracking devices:

During this time, the participants also wore motion sensors on their wrists that measured the exact amount of sleep they got each night, as well as the amount of time they spent in bed before they actually fell asleep.

The big headline from this research concerned reduced sugar cravings:

The results showed that the participants who increased the amount of sleep they got each night reduced their added sugar intake by as much as 10 grams the next day compared with the amount of sugar they consumed at the beginning of the study. These participants also had a lower daily carbohydrate intake than the group that did not extend their sleep patterns…

To prevent disturbed sleep, many experts suggest avoiding caffeine in the evening. In the old days, only adults, the drinkers of coffee and tea, needed to worry about that. But now that caffeine in is so many consumables — like energy drinks and even beef jerky — a child’s system could be awash in the stuff.

It’s always about screens

In America, we are warned against letting their children watch too much TV, play too many video games, and so forth. There are relatively few mentions of the other causes of poor-quality sleep for kids. But children are also afflicted by grownups who party like it’s 1999; parents who fight until dawn; crowded conditions with several kids to a room, or even sharing a bed.

When struck by crisis or tragedy, children react in four major ways, and one of those is sleep disturbance, often replete with nightmares and night terrors. (The other three reactions are fear of failure, academic regression, and behavioral regression.)

Those obstacles can ruin sleep quality for securely housed children. What is life for kids who live in vehicles, chaotic homeless shelters, and motels where a whole family is crammed into a single room? There are kids in America whose sleep is interrupted by gunshots.

All that being said, it is probably not a good idea to enforce strict silence, either. When a wakeful child is expected to lie down with closed eyes, a certain amount of resistance is understandable. The entire visual world is gone, and all is blackness. If strict silence is also enforced, it’s the emptiness of the Void. For a hearing child, the traditional ritual of being read to sleep can be incredibly grounding and reassuring.

To a deaf child, lying down for sleep is, at the very least, unbearably boring. At worst, it can feel like falling off the edge of the world. With nothing to see or hear, some deaf children also suffer from vertigo.

Falling asleep spontaneously is a great talent that a lot of kids possess. They have been known to sleep through rock concerts. That is extreme, but a baby does need to get used to the real world. At home, an atmosphere of ongoing, familiar, mundane ambient sound, without sudden loud noises, is a good recipe.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sleeping More May Curb Sugar Cravings, Really,” LiveScience.com, 01/09/18
Source: “Development of the Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms — Childhood Obesity Model,” WKU.edu, 2012
Source: “Helping your deaf child get a good night’s sleep,” NDCS.org.uk, undated
Photo credit: Victoria Harjadi on Visualhunt/CC BY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources