Less Screen, More Sleep

Several general areas tend to attract tips and hints that parents might benefit from. For Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we have compiled a collection of them from several different sources.

But before proceeding, it helps to start with basic precepts — with tips about tips, or meta-tips. Granted, no idea can be implemented in every time and place, and not every tip is compatible with every family’s style. For instance, some families are simply too large and/or rowdy for any rules about sleep time to be enforceable. Often, people just have to adapt to less-than-optimal circumstances.

If an idea comes up that seems really attractive, even if the first attempt doesn’t go so well, a parent should not hesitate to give it a decent chance by trying it more than once. And never give up on the idea of trying new things in general. Take advantage of the fact that other people think about these matters, and want to share their hard-won knowledge. Again, not every hint or tip works for everybody, and even an idea that works once might not have any traction the second time.

Screen and sleep are linked

Although the reasons are not immediately obvious, the two factors of screen and sleep are inextricably linked. Screen time replaces sleep, indirectly affecting weight, because erratic and insufficient sleep are obesity villains.

Sure, the phenomenon of kids staying up late predates the era of video games. There was clandestine television viewing, and plenty of children engaged in surreptitious after-hours radio listening. Before that, a child in the middle of an absorbing book would take a flashlight under the covers and read for hours. For certain people, late-night telephone conversations have always stolen sleep.

But today’s screen devices are problematic on a whole different level. Whether in gaming or social media, the interactivity factor has the potential to destroy a lot of sleep. Because people are able to engage, and relate in real time, they are not lulled into relaxation and slumber, but stimulated into untimely wakefulness.

Even simple private reactions to the news can be stressful. And, just to make a bad situation worse, people who stay up late enjoying media tend to multitask by snacking on junk food at the same time, and that is a proven fact about kids and grownups alike.

Putting on the pounds

A 2005 study published by The Journal of Pediatrics reported some specific findings:

Girls ages 9 and 11 with a television watching habit of more than two hours a day were 2.6 times more likely to be overweight than girls who watched TV less than two hours a day… For every additional hour of sleep a child gets, the risk of becoming overweight or obese decreases by 9 percent.

It was already known that artificial light messes with the body’s production of melatonin, a.k.a. the sleep hormone, and that “Light alters mood, physical strength and even the way we process food in a 24-hour cycle.” Doctors all over the country began to recommend 10 nightly hours of sleep for kids, and added their voices to the chorus calling for parents to limit total screen time to two hours per day and “get the TV out of the bedroom.”

More than 6,500 subjects confirmed that a middle-school youth with a TV in the bedroom would likely gain about a pound a year, independent of other causes. It might not sound like much, but for kids that age, weight depends on other contributing factors too, and they add up. Lead author Diane Gilbert-Diamond said, “Removing a TV from a child’s bedroom is a single concrete action that a parent can take to help reduce their child’s risk of excessive weight gain.”

At the same time in Britain, London’s Institute of Cancer Research asked more than 100,000 women about their sleep habits. Professor Anthony Swerdlow told the press that women who sleep where there is enough light to see across the room tend to have larger waistlines.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Big Kids: 10 Things Parents Can Do to Fight Childhood Obesity,” HowStuffWorks.com
Source: “TV in Child’s Bedroom Tied to Weight Gain,” HealthDay.com, 03/03/14
Source: “Sleeping in a room with too much light linked to obesity,” BBC.com, 05/30/14
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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.

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